CBI charges Airtel, Vodafone with criminal plot

CBI charges Airtel, Vodafone with criminal plot

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday filed a charge sheet in a Delhi court in a case relating to alleged irregularities in spectrum allocation involving telecom companies Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India for causing a Rs 846-crore loss to the exchequer during the regime of then telecom minister Pramod Mahajan.

This is the first instance in which the heat of the CBI probe would reach the then BJP-led NDA government.

The charge sheet filed in the court of special judge O P Saini also named former telecom secretary and IAS officer Shyamal Ghosh, besides two Vodafone-owned Hutchison Max and Sterling Cellular as accused.

The CBI invoked the charges of criminal conspiracy under Section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code and various other offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The agency did not name either Mahajan or promoters of telecom companies as accused in the charge sheet.

The CBI alleged that additional spectrum was allocated to these companies on July 17, 2002, following the conspiracy hatched among Mahajan and others.

“Investigation has thus established that the decision dated January 31, 2002 (on allocation of additional spectrum) was taken in undue haste pursuant to the criminal conspiracy hatched amongst the accused public servants, late Mahajan, the then minister of communication and information technology, Shyamal Ghosh, the then secretary DoT and said accused telecom companies,” the CBI alleged.

The court put the charge sheet for consideration for January 14.
The probe agency enumerated as many as 73 people, including former BSNL director J R Gupta, as witnesses in the case. The charge sheet was filed in pursuance to the nod given by the Supreme Court to the CBI on November 29.

The CBI had already filed an FIR a year ago on November 17, 2011, against Ghosh, Gupta, Bharti Cellular Ltd Delhi, Vodafone Essar Ltd, Mumbai, Vodafone Essar Mobile, Delhi and some unidentified officials.

 According to the FIR, the accused abused their official position following conspiracy with the telecom companies and caused undue cumulative pecuniary advantage of Rs 508.22 crore approximately to the beneficiary companies and corresponding loss to the government exchequer by only charging additional one per cent AGR (adjusted gross revenue) for allotting additional spectrum from 6.2 MHz up to 10 MHz (paired) instead of charging additional two per cent AGR as per existing norms.

The apex court had earlier asked the CBI to file the charge sheet after NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation, the petitioner in 2G case, alleged that the probe agency could not file the charge sheet owing to difference of opinions in the top brass of the probe agency.

According to the NGO, the CBI, while investigating the spectrum scam in the period 2001 to 2007, allegedly found losses to the government with “active role played by Sunil Bharti Mittal of Bharti Airtel in connivance with the then telecom minister Pramod Mahajan and Shyamal Ghosh, Secretary Telecom (Retired).”

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