Extra spectrum allocation: CBI court calls Sunil Mittal, Asim Ghosh, Ravi Ruia

Written by feBureau | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 20 2013, 06:19am hrs
In what can be seen as a major blow to the already beleaguered telecom sector, the special CBI court hearing the 2G spectrum scam case on Tuesday decided to summon Bharti Airtel chairman and managing director Sunil Mittal as an accused in a case relating to grant of additional spectrum to the company in 2002 during the NDA governments regime.

Taking cognizance of the charge sheet filed earlier by the Central Bureau of Investigation, special judge OP Saini also summoned former managing director of Vodafone (Hutch) Asim Ghosh and vice-chairman of the Essar Group Ravi Ruia, who was then a director of Sterling Cellular, which later became part of Hutch/Vodafone.

The three corporate czars along with former department of telecommunications secretary Shyamal Ghosh, whose name was mentioned as an accused in the CBIs charge sheet, have been summoned to the court on April 11.

The surprise element in Sainis order was including the names of Mittal, Asim Ghosh and Ruia as accused since the CBI had, apart from Shyamal Ghosh, only mentioned the names of the companies Bharti Airtel and Vodafone as accused and not names of any their officials.

I have carefully gone through the copy of FIR, charge sheet, statement of witnesses and documents on record. On the perusal of the record, I am satisfied that there is enough incriminating material on record against the accused persons, Saini noted in his two-page order.

I also find that at the relevant time, Sunil Bharti Mittal was chairman-cum-managing director of Bharti Cellular Ltd, Asim Ghosh was managing director of Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd and Ravi Ruia was a director in Sterling Cellular Ltd, who used to chair the meetings of its board. In that capacity they were/are prima facie in control of affairs of the respective companies. As such they represent the directing mind and will of each company and their state of mind is the state of mind of the companies. They are/were alter-ego of their respective companies. In this fact/situation, the acts of the companies are to be attributed and imputed to them. Consequently, I find enough material on record to proceed against them also, he wrote.

The order, which came during market hours, saw the Bharti Airtel share drop close to 8% before ending at Rs 293.40 on the BSE, a loss of 4.74%.

So far, companies like Reliance Telecom (RTL), Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless have been charged in the spectrum scam relating to the period 2007-08 when UPA governments A Raja was the telecom minister. While the promoters of Unitech Wireless and Swan Telecom have been personally charge sheeted and even spent time in jail, in the case of RTL, which is an Anil Dhirubhai Group company, only three directors have been charge sheeted and went to jail before being released on bail. Essars Ruia had been earlier also been charge sheeted in the scam relating to the 2007-08 period.

The court had on March 8 pulled up the CBI for only blaming government servants and not naming any company officials in the charge sheet after CBI prosecutor KK Goyal had said they had tried their best to find out if any company officials were part of the conspiracy but they could not find anybodys name. The court had directed the CBI to place before it documents relating to resolution passed by the three firms, including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, for seeking additional spectrum. The CBI had told the court that no resolution was passed by these accused firms for applying for additional spectrum.

As is known, the CBI had expanded its probe into the 2G spectrum scam of 2007-08 centring around Raja to include all spectrum allocations since 2001. This was done after Kapil Sibal, who took charge of the telecom ministry after Raja, said that spectrum allocation without auctions were done by the NDA government also. Subsequently, he constituted a one-man inquiry under retired justice Shivraj Patil which pointed out a number of irregularities.

Broadly, the CBIs charge is that Bharti and Vodafone were the beneficiaries of the DoTs move on January 31, 2002, to allocate additional spectrum. It has said that the then telecom minister Pramod Mahajan and Ghosh showed undue haste in clearing the proposal bypassing the Telecom Commission, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, member (finance) and the wireless advisor.

Initially, there were two views in the CBI whether to name Mittal or only the company since Bharti was seen to be the larger beneficiary of the move by it. Finally, the then CBI director AP Singh opined that only the private companies should be mentioned and no officials from them. Subsequently, the Supreme Court endorsed the CBIs report stating that the agency should go by its directors views. It was after that the CBI filed the charge sheet only naming Shyamal Ghoshs name as an accused along with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone.