New Delhi, Mar 19: A special court looking into the allocation of 2G spectrum by different governments has issued summons to Bharti Cellular Ltd CMD Sunil Bharti Mittal and Essar Group vice chairman Ravi Ruia. Both of them have to appear before Special CBI Judge OP Saini on Apr 11.
Asim Ghosh, former MD of Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd (now known as Vodafone India Ltd), and Shyamal Ghosh who served as Telecom Secretary during the NDA regime have also been summoned to testify on the same date.
The court had earlier slammed the CBI for ignoring the role played by leading telecom companies in the massive scam and focusing only on "government servants".
In Dec 2012, the agency charged Shyamal Ghosh alongwith Bharti Cellular, Hutchison Max Telecom and Sterling Cellular Ltd (now known as Vodafone Mobile Service Ltd) with criminal conspiracy (Section 120 B of the IPC). The accused were booked under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act too.
Ravi Ruia, Asim Ghosh and Sunil Bharti Mittal were not named by the CBI as accused in the case. However, the judge observed that Mittal and Ruia should have been named in the charge sheet.
"I also find that at the relevant time, Sunil Bharti Mittal was Chairman-cum-Managing Director of Bharti Cellular Ltd, Asim Ghosh was Managing Director of Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd and Ravi Ruia was a Director in Sterling Cellular Ltd, who used to chair the meetings of its board. In that capacity they were/are prima facie in control of affairs of the respective companies. As such they represent the directing mind and will of each company and their state of mind is the state of mind of the companies," he said.
The court noted that "there is enough incriminating material on record to proceed against the accused persons". After taking cognisance of the case on Tuesday, the judge ordered summons to be isuued to "all seven accused for April 11, 2013".
Bharti Airtel "saddened" by summons to Mittal
Reacting to the summons isuued to Mittal, his company released the following statement:
We are saddened at the summons being issued to Bharti Airtel Ltd. (earlier Bharti Cellular Ltd) and to Sunil Bharti Mittal, as chairman and managing director of Bharti Airtel Ltd., whilst taking cognisance of the Charge Sheet filed by the CBI against Bharti Airtel Ltd., two Vodafone entities and an individual. This matter pertains to certain policy decisions taken during the NDA Government in 2002.
We would like to state the facts as under:
CBI has asserted that they have not found any evidence of conspiracy against any individual whatsoever.
The requests for additional spectrum allocations to improve the Quality of Service and to raise the standards of mobile telephony in India to global standards had been raised by several telecom operators and by Industry Associations since 1999/2000.
The spectrum allocation i.e. subject of the charge sheet was made to Bharti Airtel Ltd. in December 2003 under the charge of then Minister of Communications in the NDA, Sh. Arun Shourie who has already been given a clean chit.
The fact also is that the spectrum under Govt. policy of 01.02.2002, which the Charge Sheet alleges, was issued to benefit Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Vodafone continued until April 2010 under 3 separate Ministers of Telecom and 6 Secretaries in the DoT and despite being considered by several formal / informal committees of the DoT / TRAI.
All other telecom operators including MTNL and BSNL received additional spectrum under this policy of 01.02.2002.
Government has on several occasions stated on the floor of the Parliament, even as recently as 7th December 2012, that the additional spectrum granted to all operators and the related spectrum usage charges are as per the policy. The DoT has also filed affidavits before the courts confirming the same.
We would like to reiterate that Bharti Airtel Ltd. and its promoters have always practised the highest standards of corporate governance and accordingly view the Charge Sheet as an attempt to tarnish its high reputation.
We are disappointed with the Charge Sheet against a Company which is one of the few Indian MNCs, with a reputation for good governance standards. We will fight this charge sheet against Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Airtel and a global leader associated with some of the best known institutions of the world and a brand ambassador for India.
We have full faith in the judicial process and are confident our position will be vindicated before the courts.
Ruia's firm expresses concern over the development
Here's the full statement by the Essar Group on the summons:
The Essar Group has always displayed the highest regard for law and ethics and has always conducted its business in accordance with the laws of the land. Thus the recent order purporting to take cognizance against Mr Ravi Ruia, in relation to allegations of excess spectrum, is both shocking and surprising.
At the relevant time, Essar Group was a minority partner with the Hutchison Group in various companies which were offering mobile telecom services in India. Sterling Cellular Limited was one of these companies. The day to day management of all of these companies was effectively in the hands of directors and employees nominated by the Hutchison Group.
Hutchison Group is also known for its blemish free reputation and high standards in business and ethics. Hutchison Group companies are listed in many jurisdictions all over the world and are compliant with the highest norms of corporate governance.
The CBI investigated this matter threadbare and unsurprisingly, no explanation was sought from Mr Ravi Ruia or anybody else from Essar Group in view of Essar Group's admittedly minority position in the company. The chargesheet filed by the CBI also does not even mention MrRavi Ruia or any other member of the Essar Group, much less assign any role to them.
The order of the Special Judge, however, purports to hold that Mr Ravi Ruia was "the directing mind and will" of Sterling Cellular Ltd. Given the facts, such a conclusion is clearly incorrect and misconceived and it is not clearly from a reading of the order of the Learned Judge as to on what basis the conclusion has been arrived at.
We are consulting our legal experts and exploring all legal options and will in due course take up appropriate legal proceedings to challenge this order.