2G scam: "I do not recall," says Anil Ambani

Written by PTI | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 23 2013, 02:22am hrs
BusinessAnil Ambani's company Reliance Telecom Ltd and three of his group executives are accused in the case. Reuters
Appearing before a Special Court hearing the 2G spectrum scam case, industrialist Anil Ambani on Thursday deposed as a prosecution witness but CBI began cross-examining its own witness after he "resiled" from a statement made during the probe.

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The CBI, which had presented Anil Ambani, Chairman of Reliance ADAG, as a witness to buttress its case switched strategy and cross-examined him when he said he had not handed over any note to the CBI in February, 2011 during the probe.

Quote: Reliance Communications Ltd

At this stage, Special Public Prosecutor U U Lalit submitted that Ambani was "resiling" from his previous statement and pleaded that he may be allowed to cross-examine him.

"Heard and allowed," said Special CBI Judge O P Saini, allowing CBI's plea. Ambani's company Reliance Telecom Ltd and three of his group executives are accused in the case.

Lalit's plea came when the 54-year-old corporate baron recalled that he had visited CBI in February, 2011 but did not hand over any note to the CBI officer.

When the court asked him if he was under any "threat, pressure or coercion today from any quarter", he said "I am not under any threat, pressure or coercion."

"Yes sir, I am making my statement voluntarily and as per my own free will," Ambani told the judge when he was asked, whether he was now making his statement voluntarily and as per his own free will.

He replied in the affirmative to a query from the judge that he knew the consequences of giving a false statement and that he could be prosecuted and punished under the law.

Ambani's four-hour long deposition with a lunch break saw him denying that Swan Telecom was a front company of his group RADAG for securing the precious radiowaves.Tomorrow, his wife Tina will also appear as prosecution witness.

Ambani, who was summoned to the CBI headquarters here in 2011 in connection with the probe, said he did not know whether any statement of his was recorded by the agency.

"I do not recall" was his stock reply to most of the questions put up by the prosecution. He said it was not in his knowledge that Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd (STPL) had applied for unified access service licences (UASL) in 2007.

"Sir, you are forgetting too much. Try to recollect something," the judge told Ambani. At another point, the judge observed "This is an advice to you. It can go against you also that you don't know even the names of your companies. So be careful."

Further he did not "recall" if Reliance Telecom Ltd (RTL), an accused firm, had made an investment in STPL, also facing trial in the case along with its promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka.

"It is wrong to suggest that STPL was a shelf company of my group. It is wrong to suggest that it was in my knowledge that STPL had applied for UAS Licence for J&K service area in 2007. I cannot recall if RTL had made an investment to the extent of 9.9 per cent in equity shares in STPL," Ambani told the court.

During his cross examination by CBI prosecutor K K Goel, Ambani said although he was examined by CBI during the probe he does not know if his statement was recorded.

"I was examined by CBI. However, I do not know if any statement of mine was recorded or not," he said when he was asked about his statement given to the agency under section 161 (examination before police officer) of the CrPC.

"I remained present in the CBI office for many hours and I do not recall any statement being recorded and there were a number of people present during my presence," he said.

He also denied suggestions of the prosecutor that it was in his knowledge that the structure of STPL was created in such a way so that its "real ownership" is not known.

"It is wrong to suggest that it was in my knowledge that the structure of STPL be created in such a manner that its real ownership should not be known. It is wrong to suggest that I am not disclosing the true facts to this court in order to save the accused from legal punishment," Ambani said.

He also said he does not have the knowledge about various firms -- AAA Consultancy Services (P) Limited, ADAE Ventures (P) Limited, Parrot Consultants (P) Limited, Tiger Traders (P) Limited, Zebra Consultants (P) Limited, Swan Telecom (P) Limited and Swan Consultants (P) Limited -- which were alleged to be the associate companies of Reliance ADAG.

"It is wrong to suggest that all the decisions regarding these companies, as shown to me today in the court, were in my knowledge," he said.

However, earlier during the day, Ambani had said "AAA Consultancy Services (P) Limited is part of Reliance group."

He was also shown minutes of various board meetings of several firms, including AAA Consultancy Services (P) Ltd, by CBI and to most of the questions put to him by the prosecutor, he said he does not recall the events now.

Ambani, whose recording of statement concluded today, told the court that he cannot say if any investment in equity and preference shares was made in STPL by RTL.

"I cannot say if this investment in equity and preference shares was made to show that the company was compliant with UASL Guidelines," he said.

According to CBI, as per clause 8 of UASL guidelines, "no single company or legal person, either directly or through its associates, shall have 10 per cent or more equity holding in more than one licensee company in the same service area for the same service."

During his cross examination by the CBI prosecutor, Ambani said he does not know that STPL had applied for UAS licences in 13 more telecom service areas.

"It is wrong to suggest that it was in my knowledge that for applying for more service areas, the company (STPL) required higher paid-up capital and higher net worth. It is wrong to suggest that for this purpose RTL purchased further preference shares of Re 1 at a premium of Rs 999 from STPL and this was done to maintain net worth criteria," he said.

He said "it is further wrong to suggest that it was in my knowledge that it was done so that investment of RTL remains 9.9 per cent."

He also denied he had given any "typed note" to the investigating officer during his visit to the CBI office.

Ambani said that as chairman of the group, he used to meet Telecom Ministers, including late Pramod Mahajan, Arun Shourie, Dayanidhi Maran and A Raja. He also said he had also met current Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal.

"I had met A Raja on multiple occasions as non-executive chairman of the group in connection with overall development of telecom sector," he said.

Regarding dual technology issue, Ambani said "technology neutrality was prescribed by the Cabinet, Government of India, and operating two technologies, that is, CDMA and GSM, was referred to as dual technology."

"My company, that is, Reliance Communications Limited, operating in telecom field, was using CDMA technology, while Reliance Telecom Limited was using GSM technology from 1990s, perhaps in eight to ten service areas," he said.

He also said he cannot "recall the specific date as to when dual technology was permitted in case of my companies but it could be 2007 or 2008."

"I had no occasion to discuss the dual technology issue either with the then MOC&IT or other officers of ministry," he said.

Ambani maintained his stand that he does not know about ADAE Ventures (P) Ltd or Swan Consultants (P) Ltd, his Group's alleged associated companies, though the documents for transferring funds in or from these firms bear his signatures.