India charges ex-minister in telecom graft scandal

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  1. Someoneforyou

    Someoneforyou Regular Member

    Jan 26, 2011
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    India - 2 april 2011

    NEW DELHI – Indian police on Saturday charged a former telecom minister with abuse of power and conspiracy in an alleged mobile spectrum fraud that cost the country billions of dollars in lost revenue.

    The south Indian politician, A. Raja, was also accused of cheating, forgery and criminal misconduct on a charge sheet and annexed documents that ran to 80,000 pages and were carried to New Delhi court in seven steel trunks.

    Raja, a low-caste politician from a regional party in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's national Congress-led coalition, is suspected of rigging rules for the sale of second generation (2G) mobile licences in 2008 to favour some firms.

    The charges were the first to be laid in the corruption scandal, said to be potentially the biggest in independent India's history, and capped months of investigation into the issuing of the licences and allocation of 2G spectrum.

    The charges pave the way for a high-profile trial that could be a Pandora's box for the Congress-led coalition as many of the players who received spectrum are seen as having links to the government, analysts say.

    A special court has been set up to speed up hearings in the case in which prosecutors plan to call 125 witnesses including the attorney general and 49 other senior government officials along with a host of top telecom executives.

    The fraud lost the country up to $40 billion in revenues, according to the national auditor, while the federal Central Bureau of Investigation on Saturday estimated losses at around $6.7 billion.

    "I am satisfied that there is enough incriminating material on the record to proceed against the accused persons," judge O.P. Saini said.

    The spectrum scandal has cast a cloud over India's mobile industry which is the second fastest growing in the world.

    Charges were also laid against eight other people, including Raja's private secretary R.K. Chandolia and former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura.

    Raja is accused of selling spectrum at 2001 prices and changing the application cut-off date to allow certain companies to win licences.

    Firms named on the charge sheet were Unitech Wireless, partly owned by Norway's telecommunications giant Telenor, Swan Telecom, since renamed Etisalat DB Telecom and Reliance Telecom, part of the Reliance ADA Group, controlled by billionaire Anil Ambani.

    Executives of Swan Telecom, Unitech Wireless and Reliance Telecom were among those charged. If found guilty, the accused could face years in jail.

    "The CBI media release itself states that the charges are based on its own investigations, and the accused are presumed to be innocent, till their guilt is finally established after a fair trial," said Reliance in a statement.

    All those accused have denied any wrongdoing in the scandal, one of a string to have shaken the Congress-led government during its second term.

    Singh, 78, has been battling to salvage his upright reputation in the face of opposition charges that he turned a blind eye to corruption in the interests of preserving his coalition.

    Raja, who stepped down last November, has been arrested and is in jail.

    The charges come at a sensitive time for the government -- ahead of five state elections that begin this month -- in which Congress needs to fare well or risk a shift in the political landscape that could hurt its fortunes.

    Scandals ranging from the Delhi Commonwealth Games last October to the 2G telecom sale have led to months of bad publicity, sapping the popularity of Singh's administration and rattling foreign investors.

    The Supreme Court had ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to pursue alleged corporate wrongdoers without being influenced by their status -- "be it millionaires or those on the Forbes (billionaire) list".

    Source: AFP

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