(Updates with comments from Reliance Telecom in 9th paragraph.)
Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) -- An Indian court today charged former federal minister Andimuthu Raja and two other officials with bribery, forgery and conspiring to cause financial loss to the government in a case related to sale of phone licenses in 2008.
Raja, a former telecommunications minister, his personal secretary R.K. Chandolia and former telecom secretary Siddhartha Behura will be tried under Indian criminal law for allocating mobile-phone permits to companies in return for bribes, Judge O.P. Saini said in an order in New Delhi today.
The court accepted the Central Bureau of Investigation’s plea to apply stringent charges of causing losses to the exchequer on all the 17 accused, including top executives from private telecom companies, a crime that is punishable by up to life imprisonment. The framing of charges paves the way for a trial of those accused that will start on Nov. 11.
India’s chief auditor said the cut-price, first-come, first-served permit sale three years ago at “unbelievably low” prices may have reduced government revenue by $31 billion. The sale of airwaves is one of a several scandals that damaged the popularity of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government and triggered nationwide street protests in August.
“We were expecting that the judge was going to frame the charges in this way, so this is not a surprise” said Ramesh Gupta, a lawyer for Raja. “This is the beginning of the trial, not the end.”
Unitech Ltd. Managing Director Sanjay Chandra, DB Realty Ltd. Managing Director Vinod Goenka, Reliance ADA Group Managing Director Gautam Doshi and Senior Vice Presidents Hari Nair and Surendra Pipara were charged with cheating and criminal conspiracy, and causing loss to the exchequer, according to the court order.
The court also charged Kanimozhi, a lawmaker of Singh’s second-biggest ally, former DB Realty Managing Director Shahid Balwa and three companies -- Reliance Telecom Ltd., a unit of billionaire Anil Ambani’s flagship-company Reliance Communications Ltd., Swan Telecom Pvt. and Unitech Wireless Ltd.
All those charged deny any wrongdoing.
Reliance Communications executives and Reliance Telecom will move the Delhi High Court seeking to quash the charges, according to an e-mailed statement from Reliance Telecom today. The framing of charges against the company executives won’t have any impact on licenses, operations and business of Reliance Telecom or any other group company, it said.
Reliance Communications closed 0.8 percent lower at 74.3 rupees at the close of trading in Mumbai yesterday, DB Realty fell 0.3 percent to 56.1 rupees, while Unitech declined 0.9 percent to 26.7 rupees.
--Editors: Thomas Kutty Abraham, Hari Govind
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