Anil Ambani of Reliance Communications and several top executives and directors of other telecom companies named in the charge sheet filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the 2G spectrum allocation case appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday.
Later, PAC Chairman Murli Manohar Joshi told reporters that some of them, including Mr. Ambani, took the plea that since their senior officers were named in the charge sheet, they should not be asked anything that could be later used against them in court. “They often said the matter was sub judice and sometimes said they would later get back to the committee with the information sought.”
Dr. Joshi confirmed that all tough questions related to their companies' “ineligibility” to get telecom licences – as reported by the CAG – were asked.
Mr. Ambani was questioned for over 90 minutes. He was asked about his company's links with Swan Telecom and Reliance Communications being favoured with a licence for use of dual technology.
Dr. Joshi refused to reveal Mr. Ambani's response to these questions.
There are reports that the PAC has asked Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekar and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair to appear before it on April 15.
However, Dr. Joshi would not confirm this. But some members did not deny the report.
S Tel director V. Srinivasan, who is the CEO of the Siva Group, was questioned on his letter to the Prime Minister in November 2007, offering to pay over Rs. 13,000 crore for spectrum (over a period of 10 years), against the price of Rs. 1,658 crore.
Dr. Joshi said the “committee was of the view that Mr. Srinivasan did not make all the facts clear. It was felt an effort was being made to cover up something.” Reliance Communications, S Tel, Etisalat DB and Unitech Wireless, whose representatives appeared before the PAC, were found “ineligible” for grant of licences by the CAG and yet all of them got licences.
Dr. Joshi said: “Typically, a company was set up, the equity capital was increased, company memorandums were changed to include telecom as a favoured business, foreign equity was sought and new companies were formed…”
Sanjay Chandra of Unitech Wireless pleaded immunity, citing the CBI charge sheet. The matter was sub judice and he should not be expected to respond to questions that would later be used against him and the company. He did tell the PAC that mistakes were made. He said the company was essentially interested in the real estate sector and telecom was added later.
Dr. Joshi said the “company had clearly added telecom when it felt there was a very real chance of getting a telecom licence.”
Representing Telenor Asia Private Ltd. that had bought Unitech equity after the company bagged a licence was Director Charles Goodworth.
“He was frank and candid,” said Dr. Joshi. “He gave us reasons why his company had come to India, bought equity in Unitech, what were his business prospects and how much profit he hoped to make.”
Etisalat DB (earlier Swan Telecom) was represented by Vinod Goenka, director, and CEO Atul Jhamb. Mr. Jhamb is believed to have admitted to the PAC that Shahid Balwa, in CBI custody, was a partner in the company.
The country would have to wait for the PAC report to find out what the responses to its questions were and how the PAC viewed the information given by the various people it had talked to, Mr. Joshi said.
He expressed unhappiness that Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari had commented on the PAC's functioning. “I will write to him. I will take it up,” he said.