This issue should be covered under CBI probe: Justice Singhvi

The Niira Radia tapes and investigation into the huge bank loans made to telecom companies on hypothecation of their licences reveal new offences, which go beyond the 2G spectrum allocation scam, and should be properly probed, counsel Prashant Bhushan argued in the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Concluding his submissions before a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly, he said: “The Radia tapes, which reveal new criminal conspiracies and offences, would probably be the most important and far-reaching investigation into corruption offences ever undertaken in the country.”

Mr. Bhushan drew the court's attention to a newspaper article, according to which public sector banks provided more than Rs.26,000 crore in loans to five companies involved in the 2G spectrum scandal. Unitech got Rs.10,000 crore in loans from various banks, including the State Bank of India which alone gave more than Rs.8,000 crore. Counsel said Unitech hypothecated the licence, obtained for about Rs.1,650 crore, for Rs.2,500 crore. This showed that the value of the licence was worth much more than the price paid. Justice Singvhi observed: “If it is true, it is astonishing. It goes much far beyond what you are advancing. … It is a matter of such great public importance. It needs to be covered under the CBI investigation. The investigation should be holistic.”

At this juncture, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the CBI, said: “If the court wants, we can conduct preliminary inquiry into these aspects and submit a report, and thereafter after getting orders from the court, we can register another First Information Report.”

Mr. Bhushan faulted the CBI for the “belated” raids on the houses of the former Telecom Minister, Mr. A. Raja and others. “The raids conducted today [Wednesday] are a meaningless exercise.” He said the CBI was not serious in its probe and only after the court started hearing this case, was the investigation geared up.

Justice Ganguly quipped: “It is better late than never.”

Even as Mr. Bhushan was questioning the Telecom Ministry's action allocating spectrum at the 2001 rate in 2007-08, Justice Ganguly described it as an absurd policy. In a lighter vein, he said: “Why do you give it for a song. In this commercial world, nobody is a BPL. They are all commercial companies. Why don't you give us petrol at the 2001 price…?”

Mr. Bhushan argued that the importance of this case was not just the quantum of money involved, but the range of corruption that the facts unearthed and the Radia tapes would indicate. There should be proper monitoring of the investigation.

Earlier when Additional-Solicitor General Harin Raval was explaining the action taken so far, Justice Singhvi said the courts which were already overburdened with several cases could not be further burdened to deal with cases involving allegations of money laundering.

Mr. Venugopal pointed out that while there were special courts for offences tried by the CBI, there was no special court for cases registered under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

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