CBI charges Airtel, Vodafone, ex-telecom secy in 2002 case

THE CBI Friday filed a chargesheet against telecom firms Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Vodafone Mobile and former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh, accusing them of criminal conspiracy and criminal misconduct in the allocation of additional spectrum in 2002 when the NDA was in power.

The chargesheet also alleges that then telecom minister, the late Pramod Mahajan, was part of the conspiracy but has not listed him as an accused. It says there can be no action against Mahajan since he is dead. The agency has charged all the accused under section 120-B of the IPC for criminal conspiracy and for crimes under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The chargesheet, filed in the court of Special CBI judge O P Saini, alleges that Ghosh, in criminal conspiracy with Mahajan and the accused companies, "abused his official position as a public servant and showed undue favour to the companies", causing a loss of Rs 846.44 crore to the government exchequer and corresponding gain to the companies.

The loss calculated, the CBI said, includes the incidental gain to other telecom companies by the DoT charging an additional 1 per cent of the AGR (Adjusted Gross Revenue) as fee instead of charging additional spectrum fee of 2 per cent of AGR as recommended by the Telecom Commission for allotment of additional spectrum from 6.2 Mhz up to 10 Mhz.

The FIR in the case had pegged the loss caused due to the additional spectrum allotment at Rs 508.22 crore.

The agency has also alleged that "Shyamal Ghosh deliberately with malafide intention did not obtain the comments of the member-finance who was the representative of the minster-finance despite the matter having huge financial implications. The wireless adviser who was the custodian of entire spectrum was also intentionally bypassed on flimsy ground that he was retiring on the very day, that is 31 January 2002 (sic)".

The decision to allot additional spectrum was "taken in undue haste pursuant to the criminal conspiracy amongst public servant late Pramod Mahajan, then MoCIT, Shyamal Ghosh, secretary DoT, and the said accused telecom companies", the chargesheet has alleged. The CBI has said that the decision, which was taken on January 31, 2002, was finalised even before the joint testing report required in respect of congestion service quality in the network area was submitted on February 1, 2002.

The CBI also told the court that "various directors/promoters/representatives of the telecom companies had been meeting the accused public servants in connection with getting allocation of additional spectrum". But it does not name any official of these firms. The prosecutor told the court that the CBI had been unable to determine the names of the company representatives who were part of the alleged conspiracy. The companies will now have to be summoned to court.

At the time of the allotment, Bharti Airtel was named Bharti Cellular, Vodafone India was known as Hutchison Max and Vodafone Mobile was known as Sterling Cellular.

The CBI prosecutor told the court that while Ghosh had recommended the changes in spectrum allotment, Mahajan had ordered the allotment. Further, the prosecutor said that J R Gupta, former deputy director general, VAS cell of DoT and former director of BSNL, who was named in the FIR as an accused, has been made a witness. The 57-page chargesheet lists 73 witnesses and 131 documents in support of the alleged charges.

The chargesheet also alleges that the post of the administrator-UOSF (Universal Obligation Service Fund) was created for the benefit of Ghosh, "through the efforts of Pramod Mahajan" and that Mahajan had "abused his position" to get the approval of the then Prime Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Appointments to allow Ghosh to take up the post immediately after retiring as telecom secretary on May 30, 2002. Ghosh was in the post between June 2002 and May 2005.

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