Severely castigating the CBI for putting “no question” to any witness on the allegation that a “transaction of Rs 200 crore was a transaction of illegal gratification linked to (UPA telecom minister) A Raja” for allocation of 2G spectrum in 2008, a Delhi special court Thursday acquitted DMK’s Raja, his party colleague and Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi and 15 others charged with criminal breach of trust, conspiracy and cheating over alleged largescale irregularities in the allocation.
Special judge O P Saini, while pulling up the CBI for “remaining silent” and “filing a well-choreographed chargesheet” and noting that the prosecutor had made it out to be a “case of high political corruption”, said: “I have endeavoured hard to persuade myself to take an expansive and liberal view of the prosecution case. However, in view of deficient, or I may say nil evidence on record, I find myself unimpressed and unmoved, whatever may be the nature of the case. High profile nature of a case cannot be used as a ground for holding people guilty without legal evidence.”
In a veiled reference to the presumptive loss to the exchequer — at one stage, the Comptroller and Auditor General pegged it at Rs 176,000 crore — in the grant of 2G licences, Saini said “some people created a scam by artfully arranging a few selected facts and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels” and “a huge scam was seen by everyone where there was none”.
“These are only a few examples of how policy issues are strewn around here and there in a disorderly manner. Because of this, it becomes very difficult for outside agencies and institutions to understand issues in proper perspective, leaving scope for controversy.”
At the centre of the case were these allegations: Raja misled Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister; fixation of an arbitrary cut-off date; violation of the First Come First Serve policy in issuing Letters of Intent; granting of Unified Access Service licences to two ineligible companies; and, payment of Rs 200 crore bribe to Kalaignar TV Pvt Ltd, promoted by the family of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi.
Those acquitted included former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, Raja’s former private secretary R K Chandolia, Swan Telecom promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka, Unitech Ltd managing director Sanjay Chandra and Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group executives Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair.
Others given the clean chit were film producer Karim Morani, Kalaignar TV director Sharad Kumar, Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables Pvt Ltd’s Asif Balwa and Rajiv Aggarwal. The companies acquitted were Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd, Unitech (Tamil Nadu) Pvt Ltd and Reliance Telecom Ltd of Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group.
In a separate 2G additional spectrum allocation case, Essar Group promoters Ravi Kant Ruia and Anshuman Ruia and Loop Telecom’s I P Khaitan were also acquitted.
In a statement, Raja said the acquittal proved that the presumptive loss claim was “cooked-up”. He said “my firm belief in the rightfulness of my actions as well as my faith in our nation’s justice system has been validated today”. Kanimozhi said justice had been delivered. “I have always believed that I would see light at the end of the tunnel. I have been waiting these last six years for this day. The last six years have been harrowing to say the least,” she said.
In his order, judge Saini said: “Witnesses were in the witness box and they could have explained all the circumstances. All these circumstances spring from the evidence on record and are capable of explanation. Prosecution must have afforded an opportunity to the witnesses to explain the deficiencies in the documents, but it remained silent at that time and is now endeavouring hard at the bar to condemn the witnesses and documents executed by them, behind their back. These things must have been put to the witnesses.”
The judge said public perception was “created by rumour, gossip and speculation”. “I may also add that 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… Not a single soul turned up. This indicates that everybody was going by public perception created by rumour, gossip and speculation. However, public perception has no place in judicial proceedings,” he said.
“..the genesis of the instant case lies not so much in the actions of Sh A Raja but in the action/inaction of others… There is no material on record to show 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… I have absolutely no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove any charge against any of the accused, made in its well-choreographed chargesheet,” Saini said.
These are some of the findings of the court on the allegations:
* Raja misled Manmohan Singh
Saini said: “I do not find any merit in submission of the prosecution that the Hon’ble Prime Minister was either misled by Sh A Raja or that the facts were misrepresented to him. The arguments have been taken up by the prosecution just to prejudice the mind of the court by invoking the high name and authority of Hon’ble Prime Minister of the country.”
Instead, the judge pointed out, it was Pulok Chatterjee, then Joint Secretary at the PMO, in consultation with T K A Nair, Principal Secretary, along with another official who suppressed the most “relevant part” of the letter of Raja to Manmohan Singh. The letter was written by Raja on December 26, 2007 and in the annexure to the letter he had mentioned he had explained three important issues including the new licences.
Saini said the letter was examined by Pulok Chatterjee on December 31, and the file was marked to Nair. This letter was acknowledged and sent to Raja on January 3, 2008. Court records stated that Chatterjee recorded a “long note” and marked it to Nair who finally signed it on January 7. Saini said the “note ignored the most important and controversial issue of new licences”. According to the court, the Prime Minister expressed resentment and wanted “PMO to be at arm’s length”. Chatterjee rectified his mistake, placed the “correct facts” before the PM on January 15 but it was “too late” since DoT had already issued 120 LoIs on January 10, 2008.
* Cut-off date to favour Swan, Unitech Wireless
Saini said the blame to decide the September 25 cut-off date cannot be “laid at the doors of A Raja alone”. It said it was “not a conspiracy” but an “an administrative step taken up by officers of DoT in view of receipt of large number of applications, but was later on disowned by them when the issue became controversial”.
“Why did the officers (of DoT) agree to it when they were not sure (of the date)… As per the notes, the discussion about date of 25.9.07 took place among all important functionaries of DoT and the decisions to issue LoI applications was a well-considered decision of DoT and not that of A Raja alone.” The court also noted the discrepancies in then telecom secretary D S Mathur’s deposition as he had blamed Raja for the cut-off date.
The court said the allegation that Raja’s private secretary R K Chandolia had inquired if Unitech’s licence had been received fell flat because there was no written evidence. “…Chandolia was inquiring about filing of Unitech application… (It is) only by way of oral evidence (which) carries much less credence… Legal position does not support oral evidence.”
* First Come First Serve policy
Saini said the first-come-first-serve process in itself was not followed by DoT. “First come first serve process was not an integrated process. It does not follow sequentially in a well designed coordinated manner.” The judge said deposition of officials make it clear that after receiving the Unified Access Service licence, the applicant had to apply for spectrum separately. But there was no effort on part of the DoT to track and ensure the first-come-first-serve process, he said.
* Rs 200 crore bribe
Saini said there was “no evidence, oral or documentary” to show that Rs 200 crore illegal gratification meant for Raja was parked in DMK-run Kalaignar TV (P) Limited. “..witness after witness deposed that transfer of Rs 200 crore was a genuine transaction and was duly documented in the books, but the prosecution did not challenge the version of any witness or the genuineness of the documents proved by them. No question was put by the prosecution to any witness that the transaction of Rs 200 crore was a transaction of illegal gratification linked to A Raja,” the judge said.
* Granting licences to two ineligible companies
Saini said that funding of Swan by Reliance Telecom Ltd was within “permissible limits”. He pulled up the DoT, stating that if clause 8 of UASL guidelines had been violated, then the DoT should have amended the licence agreement.