CBI defends summoning of Mittal, Ruia by trial court in spectrum case

CBI defends summoning of Mittal, Ruia by trial court in spectrum case

CBI, which had not charged Bharti Cellular Ltd CMD Sunil Bharti Mittal and Essar Group promoter Ravi Ruia, today defended in the Supreme Court the decision of a Special CBI judge to summon them in a corruption case related to allocation of additional spectrum during NDA rule in 2002.

"The fact that they were the controlling minds of the company are the matter of evidence. They have been summoned and they have an opportunity to seek discharge before the trial court," the counsel for the probe agency told a bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu.

The bench, also comprising justices M B Lokur and A K Sikri, is hearing petitions seeking setting aside of an order of the Special CBI Judge by which Ruia and Mittal, whose name did not figure in CBI's charge sheet as accused, were summoned on March 19 last year.

The lower court had said that there was "enough material" to proceed against them in the case.

Senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for CBI, said, "we start with the assumption that there is a prima facie evidence against the accused companies. A person or a group of persons, who have been the guiding force behind a company, are responsible for the alleged criminal act of the company."

Managing Director and officials are the mind and nerve centre of a company and "guilty minds of directors or managers constitute the criminal offence of a company also", he said.

Referring to records, he said the agency has evidence that Mittal met various persons to get additional spectrum for the company (Bharti Cellular Ltd) but the same kind of proof was not available with regard to Ruia.

"I did not say that he (Ruia) cannot be proceeded against," he said, adding there are various options including that the agency can be asked to investigate further.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for an NGO, said there was enough material to summon Sunil Mittal in the case.

"The Investigating Officer, the Superintendent of Police, the DIG and the Joint Director of CBI have been of the opinion that there was enough material to prosecute Mittal. He had been in liaison with government officials and others," Bhushan said.

"The Special CBI Judge was right in issuing summons. Even in the absence of specific materials, it can be said that the act of the companies have been done by MD and others", he said.

The court would continue to hear the matter tomorrow. Earlier, Essar Group promoter Ravi Ruia had said that he was not connected with the day-to-day affairs of the accused company Sterling Cellular Ltd and he was wrongly summoned in the case.

Prior to it, Bharti Cellular Ltd CMD Mittal had assailed the lower court order summoning him as accused in the case.

Besides Mittal and Ruia, the lower court had also summoned Asim Ghosh, the then Managing Director of accused firm Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd. Ghosh was also not named as accused in the charge sheet.

The trial court had said that Mittal, Ghosh and Ruia used to chair board meetings and "were/are prima facie in control of affairs of the respective companies" and "they are/were 'alter-ego' of their respective companies".

CBI had filed the charge sheet against former Telecom Secretary Shyamal Ghosh and three telecom firms Bharti Cellular Ltd, Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd (now known as Vodafone India Ltd) and Sterling Cellular Ltd (now known as Vodafone Mobile Service Ltd).

Later, the lower court, while taking cognizance of the charge sheet, issued summons to Mittal, Ruia and Asim Ghosh also saying they were "prima facie" in "control of affairs" of their companies named in the charge sheet by CBI in the case.

CBI had booked Shyamal Ghosh and the three telecom firms for the offences of criminal conspiracy (120-B) under IPC and under Prevention of Corruption Act.

The probe agency said the three accused telecom companies were allocated additional spectrum resulting in an alleged loss of Rs 846 crore to the exchequer.

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

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