A special court acquitted former Telecom Minister A Raja, lawmaker Kanimozhi and all businessmen and executives accused of bribery and rigging the 2008 allocation of second-generation spectrum, a taint that contributed to the Congress-led coalition’s defeat in the last general election.
Special Court Judge Om Prakash Saini ruled that the court has “absolutely no hesitation in holding that prosecution has miserably failed to prove any charge against any accused”. Among those left off were Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka of DB Realty Ltd., three former top executives of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group —Gautam Doshi, Surendra Piparia and Hari Nair—Ravi Ruia and Anshuman Ruia of Essar Teleholdings Ltd. and Kiran Khaitan and IP Khaitan of Loop Telecom Ltd.
The Central Bureau of Investigation had argued that the government had lost Rs 30,984 crore by allocating licences on a first-come-first-served basis at 2001 prices. That compared with the Comptroller and Auditor General’s estimate of a notional loss at Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The report from the national auditor had given the Bharatiya Janata Party-led opposition a key issue against the United Progressive Alliance in the 2014 general election, especially after the Supreme Court cancelled 122 mobile services permits handed during Raja’s term.
The trial court, however, didn’t agree with CBI’s arguments. “There is no material on record to show that Shri A Raja was the mother lode of conspiracy in the instant case. There is also no evidence of his no-holds-barred immersion in any wrongdoing, conspiracy or corruption,” it ruled.
The investigative agency indicated that it will appeal against the verdict. “The court has not appreciated evidence in 2G spectrum case in proper perspective. Necessary legal remedies will be taken,” newswire PTI quoted its spokesperson as saying.
That’s what Subramanian Swamy, on whose public interest litigation a CBI probe was ordered, and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners, suggested.
“The judgement is wrong as there was evidence of first-come-first-served being misused to favour some firms. There was considerable evidence to show that some of the licence winners were benami,” Bhushan told BloombergQuint.
The acquittal is totally wrong; sends a signal that influential accused won’t be brought to task. The verdict should be immediately appealed.
Prashant Bhushan, Petitioner And Lawyer
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government will go through the judgement before deciding further investigations. The loss to the exchequer was confirmed by the Supreme Court judgement, he said.
Those acquitted sounded relieved. “Justice has been delivered,” Kanimozhi told BloombergQuint after the verdict.
Congress leaders and parliamentarians, including P Chidambaram, said the allegations were never true. They targeted former CAG Vinod Rai for his report on the notional loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore as the licences were handed out without auction.
“My position and the (former) Prime Minister’s (Manmohan Singh’s) position stand vindicated. It was a scam by Vinod Rai. His presumptive loss theory has been proved wrong,” Congress’ Kapil Sibal said. His party colleague Manish Tewari said Rai should apologise.
Rai didn’t respond to BloombergQuint’s calls.
Here’s the list of those acquitted in three separate cases and allegations against them according to the CBI chargesheet.
- A Raja, former Telecom Minister and leader of DMK: Accused of taking bribes to arbitrarily change norms to benefit select individuals and companies, overruling the regulator and the Prime Minister’s Office.
- Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK founder M Karunanidhi: Came under the scanner for her ties with Kalaignar TV, which allegedly was a beneficiary of bribes in return of the 2G licences granted to Swan Telecom.
- Bollywood producer Karim Morani: Accused of being a conduit for bribes in the Swan Telecom case.
- Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka: Promoters of Swan Telecom and DB Realty.
- Gautam Doshi, Surendra Piparia and Hari Nair: Former executives of Reliance Group: Accused of using Swan Telecom to acquire 14 licences.
- Ravi Ruia and Anshuman Ruia of Essar Teleholdings: Accused of acquiring using Loop Telecom as a front to acquire licences.
- Kiran Khaitan and IP Khaitan: Promoters of Loop Telecom
- Sanjay Chandra of Unitech Wireless Ltd. and Unitech Ltd.: The telecom unit acquired the spectrum and then tied up with Norway’s Telenor for a telecom joint venture.
- RK Chandolia: Raja’s former private secretary
- Siddartha Behrua: Former Telecom Secretary
- Sharad Kumar: Managing director at Kalaignar TV, which allegedly was a beneficiary of bribes in return of the 2G licences granted to Swan Telecom.
- Asif Balwa and Rajeev Agarwal: Both directors at Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables Pvt., a company accused of routing bribes to Balwa’s company.