New Delhi: In a significant development in the 1.76 lakh crore 2G spectrum allocation scam, the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday quizzed Reliance Communication Chairman and former Rajya Sabha member Anil Ambani for two hours on his company`s stakes in Swan Telecom and other related aspects.
Ambani was questioned by the members of the PAC to which he responded "freely" but
evaded replies on some, contending that the matter was sub-judice.
Tata Sons Chairman Ratan Tata and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia had deposed before it in connection with the alleged 2G spectrum scam.
Top executives of Etisalat DB, Unitech Wireless and S-Tel, who have been accused by the CAG of getting undue benefits in the spectrum allocations, were also grilled today by the 22-member committee headed by BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
Ambani was asked about investments in Swan Telecom, an entity the government auditor had claimed was a "front company" of Reliance Communications. He was also asked about investments in Tiger Traders Pvt Ltd which also had stakes in Swan.
Swan bought mobile telephony licences for 13 circles for USD 340 million and later sold a 45 per cent stake to Dubai-based Etisalat for USD 900 million, taking its valuation to USD two billion without a single subscriber.
"Anil Ambani spoke freely but at some places he sought immunity saying that the matter was sub-judice. On some other questions, he told us that he would send written replies in a day or two after referring to relevant documents," Joshi told reporters here.
Joshi said that the CAG had found that all the four companies had committed irregularities in the bidding process and should not have got the licenses to operate mobile services.
He said some replies of the companies were not in consonance with the information the Committee had gathered from the Department of Telecom and all the companies had committed similar mistakes.
A common point was that launching telecom services was not in the memorandum of association (MoA) of either Swan Telecom or Unitech. In both cases, the key area of interest was real estate and Telecom was added to the MoA just a few days before the grant of licenses.
Joshi said the executives from Telenor (Asia) spoke freely and did not appear to conceal anything.
Atul Jhamb, CEO of Etisalat DB Telecom, Vinod Goenka, Director on Board, Sanjay Chandra, CEO of Unitech Wireless and Charles Woodward, Director, Telenor (Asia) Pvt. Ltd were also grilled by the PAC, so was Srinivasan, a top official with S-Tel.
Unitech and Telenor operate mobile telephone services under the brand Uninor.
Ambani, Goenka and Chandra sought immunity from the Committee pleading not to answer the questions that may affect the court cases against their companies.
CBI has named Reliance Communications, Unitech and Swan Telecom in its chargesheet in the 2G scam.
Ambani was asked about Unified Access Service License (UASL) and his company`s stake in Swan Telecom, specially related to non-cumulative redeemable shares.
Sources said Ambani`s reply was peppered with "corporate jargon" which several members failed to understand.
Ambani is understood to have justified the `first-come-first serve` policy in the allocation of 2G spectrum and favoured the auction route for 3G spectrum allocation.
Jhamb, who appeared before the PAC along with his senior colleagues from Etisalat DB, was quizzed by the members for over two hours. The company officials told the Committee that Shahid Usman Balwa, who is in the CBI custody in connection with the 2G scam, was a partner.
The Etisalat executives were asked if they were not privy to the decision of the government on telecom policy how they were able to procure a bank draft of Rs 50 crore from Punjab National Bank, Mumbai, and deposit it between 2:45 pm and 3:30 pm on January 10, 2008.
Etisalat executives contended that the draft in question was drawn on a Delhi branch of PNB. At this point, they were shown a copy of the bank draft.
Unitech representatives claimed their bank draft was ready on December 24, 2007, as media reports had claimed that the policy could be announced any day.
They said the company had to forego a significant amount as interest due to early drawal of the bank draft.
All the four companies maintained that they were discriminated against in the grant of 2G licenses.
Telenor`s Woodworth said the committee asked "all sorts of questions" and that he gave detailed explanations to all of them.
"We presented them with the truth. We were asked why we invested in India. We said we have nothing to hide. We are here to stay," he said.
With PTI inputs