As CBI makes progress, govt cautious in SC

As CBI makes progress, govt cautious in SC

New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will start fixing the criminal culpability of telecom companies being probed for their involvement in the second-generation (2G) telecom spectrum allocation scandal within two weeks, and include this in the draft chargesheet to be filed before the Supreme Court (SC), two senior officials at the investigative agency said.

The Union government also attempted to distance itself from the actions of former telecom minister A. Raja before the Supreme Court, as the government’s counsel evaded questions from the bench on the decision-making process that led to the controversial allotment of licences and spectrum. The government has already stated that it will take a stand independent of the telcos in the case.

Attorney general (AG) Goolam E. Vahanvati told the court the government was in a “difficult position". Vahanvati steered clear of questions from the bench of justices, G.S. Singhvi and Ashok Kumar Ganguly, on how spectrum allocation decisions were taken, even though additional solicitor general Indira Jaisingh had told the court on Wednesday that the government would be addressing the court on both the telecom policy and the actions taken under the policy.

The court observed: “The AG only addressed us on the history of the policy...he did not justify the failure to auction or the decision-making process."

According to one of the CBI officials, who did not want to be identified, the agency is yet to question many executives of telecom, real estate and other companies and government officers. “The investigations are not complete yet, but we are very hopeful to complete them before the deadline. Many people are yet to be called in for questioning," an official associated with the investigation said. CBI is preparing a list of ineligible companies, which benefited from the spectrum allocation, he added.

“Telcos’ criminal culpability will be fixed after 20 March. We will assess the material evidence gathered during the probe and accordingly name (them) in the chargesheet," the CBI official added.

CBI has to file the chargesheet before 31 March as per the directions from the apex court, which is directly monitoring the investigation. The agency had registered a case in October 2009 against “unnamed officials" of the department of telecommunications and other private persons. It has since arrested Raja, his then personal secretary R.K. Chandolia, former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura and the promoter of DB Realty Ltd, Shahid Balwa, on charges of corruption, criminal conspiracy, forgery and cheating.

The Press Trust of India reported that a special court in Delhi extended their judicial custody and sent them to jail till 17 March. Several senior officials from telecom companies and business groups have also been questioned by CBI.

A second CBI official, who too declined to be named, said the agency would now question Rajya Sabha MP M.K. Kanimozhi, daughter of Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi. Kanimozhi is one of the stakeholders in Kalaignar TV, which, according to CBI, has received payments of Rs214 crore from one of Balwa’s companies in lieu of licences allotted to Swan Telecom Pvt. Ltd. Both Balwa and Kalaignar TV had denied allegations. “She has not been summoned yet, but would be questioned definitely," the officer said.

CBI has searched and questioned chief executive officer of Kalaignar TV Sharad Kumar. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is a key ally of the Congress party in the governing United Progressive Alliance coalition and any summons to Kanimozhi could sour ties between the two parties in the run-up to the Tamil Nadu state assembly polls in April.

CBI said it is collaborating with the Enforcement Directorate, which has sent multiple letters rogatory to Norway, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Cyprus, Libya, Mauritius and Russia to get information on kickback money suspected to be routed to these countries under the guise of investments.

“At present, we only concentrating on irregularities between 25 September 2007 (the cut off date of submission of licence applications) and January 2008 (when the licences were allotted). Irregularities and kickbacks before and after this period will be probed after 31 March," one of the CBI officials said.

According to CBI, it was also looking into the role of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia for a monetary transaction between Tata Realty Ltd and Unitech Ltd. “She brokered the deal. If we find her criminally culpable, she will be called for questioning. As of now, no case is made out in our investigations against her," the first official quoted said. The agency has separately questioned officials from Tata Realty and Unitech. Radia’s house and offices, too, have been searched by the agency.

Radia could not be immediately reached for comment.