A special court here has charged an official of a telecom PSU and his accomplice with causing a loss to the Indian Government by setting up a fraudulent firm that was paid over $1.5 lakh as commission for services it was supposed to render in Bhutan for setting up a GSM mobile communication project partly funded by the Indian Government.

Special Judge Manoj Jain in his order said there was enough evidence on record to charge Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL) official Ashok Kumar Sharma and his accomplice Sanjay Bhalla for criminal conspiracy to commit cheating, forgery for purpose of cheating, and using as genuine a forged document, besides various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

In July 2002, Bhutan had floated a global tender for installation of a GSM communication project. After TCIL entered the project, Sharma was appointed as country-in-charge by TCIL for the said project.

Tasked with finding a suitable local agent for the project with good contacts in Bhutan, Sharma allegedly gave wrong information that M/s Bhutan Mystical was a locally registered company in Bhutan and recommended its name for such appointment.

“He [Sharma] also claimed that during his visit to Bhutan, the said firm had approached him for such appointment and was of great help in liaison work. He also mentioned that the company had agreed for agency commission at six per cent of the contract but after negotiations, said firm i.e. M/s Bhutan Mystical, had agreed to bring down the commission to three per cent,” the CBI had alleged.

According to CBI, Sharma by entering into a criminal conspiracy with Bhalla and in pursuance of same, abused his official position and set up a “bogus and fictitious” firm, M/s Bhutan Mystical, based in Bhutan with Bhalla as chairman. A payment of $ 1,54,375 was made to Bhutan Mystical by TCIL in five tranches. Though further payments were sought, these were withheld.

“Undoubtedly, agency commission has been fixed at three per cent which is not on the higher side. However, agent cannot be appointed because there exists a provision for appointment of agent. It seems to me that even if there was no such MoU regarding appointment of agent, TCIL would have still got the contract. That being so the payment of the commission at three per cent was, therefore, completely unwarranted and resulted in wrongful loss to State exchequer,” Mr. Jain observed, adding that there was no material on record before him suggesting that Bhalla had “any local contact or influence” in Bhutan.

During arguments on charge, Sharma had claimed he was being made a scapegoat and that another TCIL official's role was not probed by the CBI. Bhalla argued that there was no stipulation that prevented his appointment as an agent and that the commission of 3 per cent was on the lower side.