There is prima facie material to suggest that there is an element of coercion by the “former Telecom Minister” [Dayanidhi Maran, now the Textiles Minister] in Aircel selling its shares to a Malaysian telecom company, the Central Bureau of Investigation told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Giving details of the investigation conducted so far on the Preliminary Enquiry registered for the period 2001 to 2007, the CBI said that initial enquiry revealed that the former Telecom Minister, who held the portfolio from 2004 to 2007, deliberately sat on Aircel's licence application for months together.
Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the CBI, read out the highlights of the status report and said that the former Telecom Minister delayed the file in spite of unanimous recommendation from Department of Telecom (DoT) officials. He said unwanted and frivolous queries were asked from Aircel to delay the file while no such queries were raised against two other companies that had applied for licences during the same period. He said “the CBI's preliminary enquiry reveals an element of coercion in the former Minister dealing with Aircel.”
Counsel said “this gentleman [C. Sivasankaran, promoter of Aircel] was forced to transfer all his shares to the Malaysian company. Only after the transfer took place in March 2006, action was taken on all the applications for licence. The Letter of Intent was issued to the Malaysian company in November 2006 and the licence was granted in December 2006. The CBI is now probing whether there is any quid pro quo in the transaction. The CBI is also verifying the allegations by enquiring into the final share transactions which had taken place through a Singapore Bank [Standard Chartered Bank], which had been called for enquiry on July 13.”
On other aspects of the 2G spectrum case, Counsel said that prima facie the CBI had evidence to show that Loop Telecoms was a front company of Essar, which also stood corporate guarantee for Loop when it applied for a State Bank of India loan.
The status report noted: “Essar was the group behind Loop but two days before the grant of Unified Access Service Licence (UASL) licence they reduced their stake to approx 2 per cent. Also, Essar stood corporate guarantee for Loop when it applied for State Bank of India loan.” Justice Singhvi observed that this did raise questions about the role of the banks in the way they granted loans.
When counsel referred to a legal opinion given by a retired Chief Justice of India [V.N. Khare] to one of the companies and to his going to the media about the legal opinion, Justice Singhvi made it clear to the CBI that it should ignore all such legal opinions and proceed with the investigation as they were intended to sidetrack the probe. He said “the CBI should continue with its investigation to reach a logical conclusion uninfluenced by such legal opinions.”
During the hearing, Mr. Venugopal told the court that the CBI was to complete its investigation into the money trail, involving the 2G-spectrum allocation scam, by August 31. He added that the probe into all the irregularities in the spectrum allocation during 2001-08 would be completed within three months by September 30.
The Bench posted the matter for further hearing on July 11, when it would take up the status report of the Enforcement Directorate.