CBI pulled up for not naming corporate honchos in telecom scam

CBI pulled up for not naming corporate honchos in telecom scam New Delhi: The CBI was on Friday grilled by a Delhi court for only "blaming" government servants and not naming any company officials in connection with the charge sheet against Airtel, Vodafone and others for alleged irregularities in the allocation of additional spectrum to them during NDA regime.

"In a conspiracy, there must be two parties. You (CBI) are blaming only the government servants. Why not the private persons? Who did the conspiracy with the government servants?" Special CBI Judge O P Saini asked.

On being quizzed by the judge, CBI prosecutor K K Goyal said they had tried their best to find out if any company officials were part of the conspiracy but they could not find anybody's name.

"We could not find out anybody's name. We tried to find out who are the persons who instigated this but we could not find out. We tried our best," the prosecutor said.

The court, after hearing CBI's arguments, reserved its order for March 19 on the issue of taking cognisance of the charge sheet.

During the hearing, CBI told the court that no resolution was passed by these companies for applying for additional spectrum.

The court had earlier directed the CBI to place before it documents relating to resolution passed by the three firms, including Airtel and Vodafone, for seeking additional spectrum during the NDA regime.

The CBI had on December 21 last year filed a charge sheet in which former Telecom Secretary Shyamal Ghosh and three telecom firms -- Bharti Cellular Ltd, Hutchison Max Pvt Ltd (now known as Vodafone India Ltd) and Sterling Cellular Ltd (now known as Vodafone Mobile Service Ltd) -- have been named as accused.

In the 57-page charge sheet, the CBI has booked all the accused for the offences of criminal conspiracy (120-B) of the IPC and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The court had earlier granted over two weeks additional time to CBI to submit documents sought from it in the case.

The court had told the CBI that these telecom firms must have approached the government first for seeking additional spectrum and they must have also passed a resolution in this regard.

It had also told CBI that the case is about the pricing dispute over additional spectrum and the agency should file the documents relating to passing of any such resolution by these companies.

The CBI, in its charge sheet, has named the three telecom companies as accused in the case in which DoT had allegedly allocated additional spectrum resulting in a loss of Rs 846 crore to the exchequer.

The CBI has not named Jagdish Rai Gupta, a former Deputy Director General (VAS) cell of DoT and a former Director of BSNL, who figured in the FIR, as accused in the case saying "no evidence attributing any criminality on his part or his involvement in the alleged offence has surfaced during the investigation."

Regarding Ghosh, the CBI had said that in conspiracy with the then Telecom Minister Pramod Mahajan and accused telecom firms, he abused his official position to show undue favour to the firms causing a loss of Rs 846.44 crore to the exchequer.

The CBI, in its charge sheet, had said that the decision regarding allocation of additional spectrum to these telecom firms was taken in "undue haste" in pursuance of the conspiracy hatched by Mahajan, Ghosh and these companies.

During the hearing, the CBI told the court that the loss to the exchequer was caused by Ghosh and Mahajan, who being the then telecom minister gave his approval for allocation of additional spectrum to these accused telecom firms.

"This (order to give additional spectrum) was agreed to by the then telecom minister who too approved Ghosh's order and spectrum was allotted," the CBI said, adding, "The then telecom secretary and the then telecom minister caused the loss."

When CBI prosecutor was detailing the sequence of events from the charge sheet which led to allocation of additional spectrum to these firms, the court asked, "When did the things become criminal."

Answering this query, the prosecutor said that it became criminal on January 31, 2002 when the order was passed for allocation of additional spectrum to these companies.

He also said that there was no reason for passing this order and even the then telecom minister agreed to it.

"Accused number one (Shyamal Ghosh) gave benefit (to the companies) against the notings of J R Gupta (former DDG VAS) and even against his previous order without any reasons and caused a huge loss to the government," he said.

The court also asked the agency as to "who are the parties (in the conspiracy)?" adding, "the charge sheet says there was conspiracy. Government servants were on one side, then who were the persons on the other side?"

The CBI said they could not find out the persons as the companies have been renamed and even no resolution was passed by them for additional spectrum.

"So many applications for allocation of spectrum was filed and so many persons were involved. Filing an application is not illegal. Persuasion in wrong direction is illegal," the CBI said.

The prosecutor also said in one of the accused companies, there was no Managing Director (MD) whereas there were MDs in the two firms. He also said one of the MDs was on the board of two companies who are accused in this case.

"We have verified the facts. No resolution was passed before applying for additional spectrum. As per their version, additional spectrum was required for their services. They applied for it and got the spectrum," he said.

"We tried to find our who are the persons who instigated this but we could not find out. We tried our best. So many persons were doing so many things. We could not find out," the prosecutor said adding that Ghosh gave benefit to the firms.

"Several times, the companies persuaded the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) for additional spectrum. They (companies) also persuaded Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and COAI also approached the DoT for allotment of additional spectrum," the agency said.

The CBI also said that if the DoT was to allot additional spectrum, it should be mentioned in their files.

The court, after hearing the CBI's arguments, reserved its order on taking cognisance of the charge sheet for March 19.

PTI