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Is CBI trying to save Reliance in the 2G case?

Monday, 4 August 2014 - 12:54pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

CBI's special public prosecutor Uday U Lalit, who has been named to be a judge in the Supreme Court, has accused the CBI and its director Ranjit Sinha for attempting to derail a case against Reliance Telecom of the Anil Dhirubai Ambani group and its three accused directors in 2G the spectrum allocation scam. He has questioned the intentions of the CBI director and DIG in-charge of 2G investigations, Santosh Rastogi, for sending a "draft" request to him, seeking further probe in the case against Reliance.

In his letter dated June 30, 2014 (accessed by dna), Lalit refers to a draft sent by Santosh Rastogi. A note with the draft says that CBI Director Ranjit Sinha has found new points and facts in the 2G case, which "contradicts the present chargesheet" filed against Reliance Telecom. It says the CBI wants to suspend the ongoing trial against Reliance and reopen the case for further investigations.

Rastogi's letter and note make it clear that the draft is being sent to Lalit on behalf of CBI Director Ranjit Sinha as he has found new facts in the 2G case. The implications of this draft would have been grave if Lalit had agreed to the CBI's demand. "Putting CBI demand to re-open the investigations against Reliance to the trial court means that the three-year long trial will be suspended. CBI will investigate all over again and will file a supplementary charge sheet for a new trial against the Reliance," a senior prosecutor requesting anonymity told dna.

In fact, the impact could have cascaded down the entire 2G case. Even other prime accused politicians A Raja, Kanimozhi Karunanidhi and corporate honcho and Supertech chief Sanjay Chandra could have benefitted out of it, the source added.

UU Lalit's reply

The CBI's "draft" infuriated Lalit, who shot off a three-page strong reply to Rastogi. Informed sources disclose that Lalit also wrote a separate letter to CBI Director Ranjit Sinha, expressing in the strongest possible words that "the CBI should never do this again".

This CBI draft "tantamount to weakening of the case", Lalit"s letter read, underlining that this should not be done under any circumstances. 

"I want to know who has made this draft," Lalit demanded to know through his letter. "Under whose authority, this draft has been sent to me," Lalit writes. He alsso asked an explanation why he should plead this case on CBI's new findings.

Lalit's letter, also mentions (quoting Rastogi) that Ranjit Sinha has found some new facts, which contradict with the present charge sheet against the Reliance.

It is not known if Ranjit Sinha has replied to Lalit's queries. Sinha claims that he has no knowledge about any developments in the 2G case or letter written by UU Lalit. "I don't know anything about all these things," he told dna. Lalit declined to meet dna, saying he doesn't want to speak to any media person. He did not respond to dna's queries sent through email. Rastogi too refused to meet dna.

But, sources say, CBI Director has chilled out for a moment. Lalit has already been nominated for the Supreme Court judge and the notification for his elevation to SC judge is expected any moment. "The CBI will seek replacement of Lalit and the matter for reopening the case against the Reliance may raise its head again," sources said.

What the CBI draft says

The gist of the argument made out in the CBI draft was that "Clause 8 of USAL guidelines should apply only to licences and not to the applicants." In the Reliance case, applicant was Swan Telecom"s Shahid Balwa. And if Clause 8 of USAL doesn't apply on Swan, the entire case against Balwa and the Reliance falls apart.

The clause 8 of the USAL states that no single company/legal person, either directly or through its associates, shall have substantial equity (10% or more) holding in more than one Licensee Company in the same service area.

Since Reliance had substantial equity, the Anil Ambani led company allegedly used Balwa's Swan to acquire licenses and frequency beyond their permissible limit. In 2011, Anil Ambani and his wife Tina Munim Ambani were questioned in the case. He narrowly escaped, as three of his directors - Surinder Pipara, Hari Nair and Gautam Doshi - took the entire blame . All the three were arrested and spent almost an year before being released on bail.

"It is for the public prosecutor to decide the course of action, once the trial begins in a case… And in Reliance"s case, the trial has almost come to an end," sources said.

The Trial till now

During the three-year long trial, 153 prosecution witnesses including Anil Ambani and Tina Ambani deposed before the court. 20 of the 35 defence witnesses have also deposed. And the rest of the hearing is likely to be completed by August 13, as directed by the court. Two of the five witnesses listed by Reliance have already deposed.

Interestingly, Santosh Rastogi, who had named CBI Director Ranjit Sinha in his note to UU Lalit, has been removed from the 2G case. He has been transferred to Special Crime Branch, where he would look after Badayun case. According to sources, the notification of Rastogi"s transfer is out, but Rastogi is yet to take physical charge at special Crime Branch.

UU Lalit has not appeared in the 2G court since his name was recommended by the Supreme Court collegium.

The 2-G licences and and accompanying second-generation or 2G airwaves were given to ineligible companies in 2008 by then telecom minister A Raja. He and 17 other accused are on trial since then. CAG had estimated the loss at Rs 1.76 lakh crore. And (according to Wikipedia), Time magazine had listed the 2G scam at number two on their "Top 10 Abuses of Power" list (just behind the Watergate scandal).

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