A Special Court on Thursday morning ruled that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had failed to prove charges of corruption, abuse of position, conspiracy, and money laundering against former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja, industry captains, including Essar promoters Ravi Kant Ruia and Anshuman Ruia, and former bureaucrats in the so-called second generation or 2G spectrum allocation scam.
The judgment acquitting all 17 accused (individuals and companies), that took the world by surprise, came eight years after investigations began into the alleged scam in 2009. CBI has decided to move the Delhi High Court against the order.
“There is no material on record to show that A Raja was mother lode of conspiracy in the instant case. There is also no evidence of his no-holds barred immersion in any wrongdoing, conspiracy or corruption,” Special CBI Judge O P Saini announced in a packed courtroom.
The court also exonerated Rajya Sabha MP K Kanimozhi, who is daughter of former Tamil Nadu chief minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch M Karunanidhi, and her stepmother Dayalu Ammal in the money laundering case. The acquittal is expected to boost the prospects of DMK in Tamil Nadu.
The Congress, which political analysts believe was defeated in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections over corruption charges, especially the 2G scam, is expected to gain from the judgment.
“I am glad that the court has pronounced unambiguously that all this massive propaganda, which was being done against the UPA (United Progressive Alliance), was without any foundation,” said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was attacked by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for being silent on the 2G controversy.
The CBI had begun investigating the spectrum allocation case after registering a case on October 21, 2009, against unknown government officials and private entities. The CBI’s case was based on a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), then headed by Vinod Rai. The CAG report claimed that arbitrary allocation of 122 spectrum licences, based on first-come, first-serve policy, by the UPA government had caused the exchequer a “presumptive” loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore. Following the verdict, the BJP said the Congress should not wear the judgment as a “badge of honour”. But BJP leader Subramanian Swamy alleged the public prosecutors were not serious about contesting the case in court.
The Special CBI Judge Saini blamed the CBI for a “choreographed” charge sheet and Department of Telecommunications (DoT) officials for their inaction. “The lack of clarity in the policies as well as guidelines also added to the confusion. The guidelines have been framed in such technical language that meaning of many terms is not clear even to DoT officers… Nobody believed the version of DoT and a huge scam was seen by everyone where there was none. These factors compelled people to conjecture about a big scam. Thus, some people created a scam by artfully arranging a few selected facts and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels,” the judge noted.
In an earlier order in the case a few years ago, Saini had said, “The facts of the case as well as the charges levelled against the accused are of very serious nature having grave implications for the economy of the country.” He had also said, “I am satisfied that no case for bail is made out for any of the applicants/accused.” But on Thursday, in a verdict running into 1,552 pages, Saini said, “For the last about seven years, on all working days, summer vacation included, I religiously sat in the open court from 10 am to 5 pm, awaiting for someone with some legally admissible evidence in his possession, but all in vain.” He also said, “In the beginning, the prosecution started with the case with great enthusiasm and ardour. However, as the case progressed, it became highly cautious and guarded in its attitude, making it difficult to find out as to what prosecution wanted to prove… By the end, the quality of prosecution totally deteriorated and it became directionless and diffident,” he noted.
The CBI in its charge sheet had alleged that Raja entered into a conspiracy with his personal secretary R K Chandolia and former telecom secretary Siddhartha Behura to allot spectrum licences to industrialists such as Sanjay Chandra of Unitech, and Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka of Swan Telecom (now Etisalat DB). Balwa’s colleagues Asif Balwa and Rajeev Aggarwal were also charged by the agency. The investigating agency had also booked Reliance Telecom executives Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara, and Hari Nair for misrepresenting the facts before DoT.
Sharad Kumar and Kanimozhi were charged for alleged quid pro quo in the case. The agency alleged that Balwa transferred Rs 200 crore to Kalaignar TV through shell companies in lieu of telecom licences. Kanimozhi and Kumar each held 20 per cent stake in Kalaignar TV.
Karunanidhi’s wife Dayalu Ammal held the remaining 60 per cent in the television channel.
Saini said no evidence was produced before the court indicating any criminality in the acts “allegedly committed by the accused relating to fixation of cutoff date, manipulation of firstcome, firstserve policy, allocation of spectrum to dual technology applicants, ignoring ineligibility of STPL and Unitech group companies, nonrevision of entry fee, and transfer of Rs 200 crore to Kalaignar TV as illegal gratification.”
The judge also acquitted Ravi Ruia and Anshuman Ruia of the Essar Group as well as I P Khaitan and Kiran Khaitan of Loop Telecom. Essar Group director Vikash Saraf was also acquitted. The CBI had alleged that Ruias and the Khaitans had violated clause 8 of UASL (unified access services licence) guidelines and used Loop Telecom to apply for new telecom licences. Ruias and Khaitans held 33 per cent of Vodafone Essar (now Vodafone India) at the time of grant of licences to Loop Telecom.
According to the Clause 8 of the UASL guidelines, “no single company/legal person, either directly or through associates, shall have substantial equity holding in more than one licencee company in the same service area for access services – basic, cellular, and unified access service”.