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Charge sheet identical to CAG findings

Charge sheet identical to CAG findings

Author: Sandeep Joshi
Publication: The Hindu
Date: April 5, 2011
URL: http://www.hindu.com/2011/04/05/stories/2011040563801200.htm

The only difference is in revenue loss, which the investigating agency CBI put at Rs.30,984 crore

The Central Bureau of Investigation's first charge sheet in the 2G spectrum allocation scam is almost identical to what the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) said, except for the figure of revenue loss, which the CBI has put at Rs.30,984 crore.

The CBI agrees with the CAG audit findings that the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, not only misled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but also overruled the objections of such important Ministries as Finance, and Law and Justice while deciding on issues related to the pricing and allocation of licences. Mr. Raja flouted all rules and regulations in connivance with his aides - private secretary R.K. Chandolia and Telecom Secretary Siddhartha Behura - to favour Unitech, Swan Telecom and Reliance Communications.

While the CAG said the "presumptive loss" to the exchequer in the allocation of 122 new licences, 35 dual technology licences and extra spectrum was between Rs.1.76 lakh crore and Rs.57,666 crore (based on four assumptions), the CBI has put the figure at Rs.30,984 crore. However, at the time of the filing of the FIR in 2009, the CBI had put the loss at Rs.22,000 crore.

The CAG report pointed out that the telecom policy was implemented in a "weak and indeterminate manner," and also to the Department of Telecom's reluctance in addressing the issue of 2G spectrum pricing despite reminders from the TRAI, the Finance Ministry, and even the Prime Minister. "The entire process of allocation of UAS licences lacked transparency and was undertaken in an arbitrary, unfair and inequitable manner," the CAG said in its audit report.

Now the CBI has also said Mr. Raja "deliberately and dishonestly" did not consider auction or revision of the entry fee. Going a step forward, the charge sheet has said: "Investigation has disclosed that accused [Mr.] Raja, despite the repeated suggestions from various corners of the government for the revision of the entry fee to be charged from the new UAS licensees and dual technology applicants, deliberately and dishonestly did not consider auction or revision of the entry fee, and gave away licences at the same fee which was discovered in 2001."

The CBI has said Mr. Raja hatched a criminal conspiracy with the managing director of Unitech Ltd., Sanjay Chandra, Swan Telecom Promoter Shahid Usman Balwa, and Vinod Goenka, Director of the Mumbai-based DB Realty, and adopted the 2001 price, ignoring the concerns of various sections of the government. Mr. Raja "deprived the government exchequer of possible revenues which could have accrued, even [after] retaining the level playing field for the new operators."

Like the CAG, the CBI has pointed out how the first come, first served policy was blatantly flouted. "The last nail in the coffin of transparency and objectivity of the policy was death by selective leaking of the date of issue of LoIs [Letters of Intent] to a few applicants, as a result of which they were ready with pre-dated demand drafts for thousands of crores of rupees prior to the date of the issue of the press release calling for applicants to collect the LoIs from the DoT," the CAG observed.

On the other hand, the charge sheet has said DoT officials had "selectively" leaked the information on the issuance of the LoIs to these two companies, which were ready with the amount and were able to deposit the fee earlier than others. "Investigation has revealed that the accused persons connected with Swan Telecom Pvt. Ltd. and Unitech Ltd. had prior knowledge of an ill-conceived design of the first come, first served process and had been keeping the demand drafts ready since early October-November 2007 itself. Even the policy was implemented by the DoT in a manner that resulted in a wrongful gain to certain companies," the CBI has said.

The CAG report stated Swan Telecom (now Etisalat DB Telecom) and Unitech (brand name Uninor) made crores of rupees by just offloading stakes in their companies to foreign partners without having any network or infrastructure. "The premium earned by these new entrants to the telecom sector was nothing but the true value of the spectrum, which should have normally accrued to the public exchequer had the transparent and fair market mechanism been followed for the allocation of UAS licences," the CAG said.

The charge sheet has also said some new entrants made crores by selling their stakes, and the biggest beneficiaries were the promoters of Unitech Wireless, who made Rs.2,342 crore. "Actual investment of promoters in equity was Rs.138 crore, which was valued at Rs.2,480 crore, indicating a gain of Rs.2,342 crore to the promoters of M/s Unitech Wireless."

Likewise, the CAG pointed out that Reliance Communications not only made Swan act as its front company, thus getting benefits in the grant of spectrum, but also gained "undue benefits" while applying for access to dual technology (GSM and CDMA) and was favoured over companies like Tata Teleservices (TTSL).

In its charge sheet, the CBI has said Mr. Raja, along with Shahid Usman Balwa, Vivek Goenka of Swan Telecom and Sanjay Chandra, conspired to deprive TTSL and Spice Communication of 2G spectrum, though they had priority over Swan Telecom. It has said Mr. Chandolia threatened senior DoT officials to ensure grant of spectrum to Swan Telecom, which was ineligible for the licence.

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