New Delhi: Nearly six years after the Supreme court cancelled the spectrum and licences allocated to eight companies, holding that the process was flawed, a special CBI court on Thursday acquitted all accused in the infamous 2G scam case.
In the intervening years, several of the companies named in the 2008 case shut operations while Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) politicians A. Raja and Kanimozhi, named among the accused, were forced into temporary political oblivion.
The other accused were Raja’s ex-private secretary R.K. Chandolia, Reliance Group (previously known as Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group) managing director Gautam Doshi, its senior vice president Hari Nair, group president Surendra Pipara, Swan Telecom Pvt. Ltd promoter Vinod Goenka, Unitech Ltd managing director Sanjay Chandra, Essar Group promoters Anshuman and Ravi Ruia, its director (strategy and planning) Vikas Saraf, Loop Telecom Pvt. Ltd promoters Kiran Khaitan and her husband I.P. Khaitan. Loop Telecom, Loop Mobile India Ltd and Essar Tele Holding Ltd were also tried.
In exonerating all the accused, CBI special judge O.P. Saini said, “I have no hesitation in holding that record is not sufficient and the prosecution has miserably failed in proving charges. All accused are acquitted."
Censuring the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Saini noted in his 2,000-page judgment, “People cannot be held guilty without evidence or evidence which is not legally admissible. High profile nature of a case cannot be used as a ground for holding people guilty without legal evidence. Lack of commercial prudence in execution of documents cannot be used as a ruse to hold people guilty of corruption. Since there were no ‘proceeds of crime’, there could be no offence of money-laundering, as nothing remained to be laundered. All accused were absolved of the charges under Prevention of Money Laundering Act as well."
The court directed all the acquitted to file a personal bail bond of Rs5 lakh each to ensure their presence during appeal. CBI was given 60 days to file an appeal. CBI officials said on condition of anonymity that the agency will appeal against the judgment on the grounds that much of the evidence it had presented had not been considered.
The court verdict set off a war of words between the Congress, which may well believe the case had cost it the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose stance that the Manmohan Singh government was complicit in allowing scams of this nature to take place under its watch, had received a bit of a blow.
In 2010, a Comptroller and Auditor General report had claimed that allocation of 2G spectrum in 2008 led to a presumptive loss of Rs1.76 trillion to the exchequer. The government auditor also cited several irregularities such as suppression of facts by firms, allocation of spectrum to new players at throwaway prices and lack of transparency.
Subsequently, in 2012, the Supreme Court cancelled all the 122 unified access service (UAS) licences issued in January 2008 to eight telecom firms, namely Uninor, Videocon, S Tel Ltd, Loop Telecom, Swan Telecom (now Etisalat DB Telecom India Pvt. Ltd), Sistema Shyam Teleservices Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd and Tata Teleservices Ltd.
The cancellation led to Etisalat, Sistema, S Tel and Loop Telecom being forced to shut down operations while others like Telenor, which entered the Indian market by acquiring a 60% stake in Unitech Wireless, and Videocon ran up deep losses and accumulated debts.