New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will file charges against a former telecom minister and other government and corporate officials this week, a government lawyer said on Tuesday, in a multi-billion dollar telecom corruption case that has shaken government and business.
Alleged corruption in a 2007-08 telecom spectrum allocation has damaged confidence in the ruling Congress government, led to calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and spooked investors in Asia’s third-largest economy.
The announcement of the first formal charges in the investigation into a scandal that a government auditor estimates cost the exchequer up to $39 billion comes hours after two more arrests of company executives.
The charges may put further pressure on the embattled Prime Minister, criticized by the Supreme Court for failing to act quickly enough against his minister. While his government will likely survive, the scandals have almost paralyzed policymaking.
Police will file charges against former telecom minister A. Raja, government officials and two companies, on 2 April, government lawyer K K Venugopal told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Investigations will be completed by end-May, and more charges are expected to be filed, Venugopal said.
A report into the allocation highlighted irregularities and said kickbacks had been paid when licences were granted in 2007-08 at rock bottom prices. The report forced the resignation and arrest of Raja.
Executives Asif Balwa and Rajiv Agarwal were arrested on Tuesday in connection with the telecom probe, a spokeswoman for the investigative agency said.
The two arrested on Tuesday are executives with real estate firm DB Realty , according to the company’s latest annual report as well two people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Balwa is the brother of former DB Realty managing director Shahid Balwa, who was arrested in February in connection with the telecom investigation. DB Realty’s parent DB Group is Etisalat’s India mobile joint venture partner.
Police lawyers earlier in court accused Raja, the former telecom minister, of having taken bribes from firms which are now the Indian arms of Telenor and Etisalat to grant them lucrative mobile phone licences.
DB Reality declined comment on Tuesday. All of those previously arrested have denied any wrongdoing.
Economic Reforms Stalled
The opposition has called for Singh’s resignation and halted Parliament, effectively blocking economic reforms such as freeing up diesel prices and allowing foreign investors into the supermarket sector.
The scandal has touched the very top of Indian society, including some of the stars of India’s economic boom once seen as untouchable. Police have questioned businessmen including Anil Ambani, the billionaire chairman of the Reliance ADA Group.
Notices have gone out to telecom firms asking why their licences should not be cancelled, sparking questions about regulatory stability.
On Monday, a parliamentary panel probing the scandal called top Indian tycoons Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani to depose before it.
The scandal has weighed on the benchmark Mumbai stock market , which is down 7.6% since the start of the year, underperforming the MSCI’s broader emerging markets equities index , which has gained 2.4%.
The corruption scandals, which include charges of graft at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and of officials at state-run banks taking bribes for corporate loans, have tarnished Singh’s image as a clean and effective leader.
They could also affect the performance of the ruling Congress party in five state elections that begin in mid-April, in which the Congress must perform well or risk the coalition unravelling.