Raja defends himself, challenges Vahanvati

Called to depose as a CBI prosecution witness in the 2G spectrum allocation scam case, Attorney General of India G. E. Vahanvati on Wednesday stuck to his stand that a draft press release he approved on January 7, 2008, while serving as Solicitor General originally had a paragraph that was missing when it was issued three days later on January 10.

The CBI has alleged that the former Telecom Minister A. Raja struck this para off while accusing him of cheating and forgery.

The January 10 press release modified the established first-come first-served (FCFS) policy to one where an application received first would be processed first and thereafter if found eligible would be granted Letter of Intent (LoI) but then whosoever complied with the conditions of LoI first would be granted the UAS licence.

The draft press release as approved by Mr. Vahanvati purportedly had another para which said: “However, if more than one applicant complies with LoI condition on the same date, the inter se seniority would be decided by the date of application.”

In its charge sheet, the CBI alleged that this portion was later crossed out by Mr. Raja, who then noted: “Press release approved as amended.” The charge sheet said: “By this dishonest act, accused A. Raja, in conspiracy with accused Siddhartha Behura (former Telecom Secretary), fraudulently portrayed to the DoT that the amended draft had the consent of the Solicitor General.”

The charge sheet alleged that this amendment led to redefining the concept of FCFS on the basis of first-compliance with conditions of the LoI, instead of the established practice of priority in the order in which applications were received by DoT.

Counsel for Mr. Raja, senior advocate Sushil Kumar, posed some questions to Mr. Vahanvati under the watchful eyes of Special Public Prosecutor U.U. Lalit. When asked by Mr. Kumar if the policy and the procedures for issuance of new UAS licences were formulated by DoT after discussion with him, Mr. Vahanvati said this was not correct and that he was only concerned with the FCFS policy.

He also rejected the defence contention that when the press release came to him for vetting, the contentious paragraph was already struck off.

The afternoon session of recording evidence saw an emotional Mr. Raja speaking out in his defence insisting that the struck-off portion of the press release was removed because it was not in conformity with the telecom policy that he had apprised the Prime Minister of in a letter on December 26, 2007.

He also challenged Mr. Vahanvati to go through the departmental files and the note sheets to see if the struck-off portion found mention anywhere. “Mr. Vahanvati, where is the scored-off portion in the note sheets or in your note (to then Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee)? He is telling a lie, and I was in jail,” Mr. Raja said.

However, Special Judge O.P. Saini ruled that Mr. Vahanvati did not need to be shown the note sheets as Mr. Vahanvati himself had admitted that he had not seen the note sheets while approving the press release on January 7.

The cross-examination will continue on Thursday.

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