‘Incriminating documents’ seized in raids at 14 places, including the premises of officials

More than a year after registering a case in the multi-crore 2G spectrum scam, the Central Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday searched the Delhi and Chennai residences of the former Communications and Information Technology Minister, A. Raja.

“Searches have been conducted so far at 14 places and incriminating documents have been recovered. Searches are still going on,'' CBI spokesperson Vinita Thakur said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

The searches which began simultaneously around 7 a.m. were also carried out at the residences of R.K. Chandolia, then personal secretary to Mr. Raja, Siddhartha Behuria, IAS and former Secretary of the Department of Telecom, K. Sridhar, the then member of Telecom Commission, A.K. Srivastava, the then Deputy Director General, Access Service Wing of DoT and Sadiqui Batcha, Managing Director of Greenhouse Exports, Chennai.

It has been alleged that there were serious irregularities in the award of Unified Access Service licences, also known as 2G spectrum, to private companies. As per information received by the CBI, there was a criminal conspiracy among certain officials of DoT and private persons and companies and others in order to award licences to these companies by putting a cap on the number of applicants against the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), and by awarding licences to private companies on first come, first served basis at 2001 rates without any competitive bidding.

The CBI registered a case on October 21, 2009 against unknown officials of DoT and unknown private persons and companies and others under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and Section 13 (1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Over the recent weeks, the CBI had to face the wrath of the Supreme Court over the probe into the scam. The Court asked the agency last month why the former Telecom Minister had not been questioned so far, despite his indictment by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).

According to the CAG report, the scam resulted in a loss of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer. The CBI has told the apex court that it would conclude its probe in the case by February 2011 and submit a status report to it.

Mr. Raja had to resign as Telecom Minister last month in the wake of the CAG report which accused him of undervaluing 2G spectrum and circumventing the rules to favour companies that did not even meet the eligibility criteria for getting spectrum licences.

However, Mr. Raja's resignation has not been enough for the UPA government to buy peace with the Opposition, which has disrupted Parliament over the last 19 days demanding a JPC probe into it.

Sources indicated that the agency was all set to question the former Telecom Minister and others. Mr. Behuria, who became Telecom Secretary on January 1, 2008, reportedly told CBI officials that licences were handed over on January 10, 2008 and that the decision had already been taken — a statement he made to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on Tuesday as well.

Mr. Chandolia, the then PS to Mr. Raja, was sent back to his parent department – Indian Economic Services – soon after Kapil Sibal took charge of the Telecommunications Ministry.

Company MD taken for questioning

Chennai Special Correspondent reports:

The CBI on Wednesday took for questioning the Managing Director of Greenhouse Exports. Mr. Batcha is said to be a close friend of Mr. Raja. However, no arrests have been made as yet, after searches at several places in Tamil Nadu.

CBI officials in Tamil Nadu said the searches were carried out by special teams operating under the direct supervision of the agency headquarters.

Officers also went to the residence of Mr. Raja at Vellur village, about 20 km from Perambalur town. They visited a nationalised bank at Perambalur.

Another team conducted a search at the residence of a real estate dealer and the commercial establishment of Mr. Batcha at Elambalur Road in the town.