The former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, told a special CBI court here on Monday that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the former Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, were aware of the dilution of equity through the foreign direct investment (FDI) route by two companies that were awarded 2G spectrum.
Commencing arguments on the charges levelled against him, Mr. Raja said he had worked in the “public interest” to provide mobile services at cheap rates and was only following the telecom policies established since 2001. He claimed that Mr. Chidambaram, when he was Finance Minister, informed the Prime Minister about foreign companies buying stakes in the two firms. The decision to award 2G licences at entry fees fixed in 2001, instead of going in for an auction was a Cabinet decision, he alleged.
“Etisalat buying a stake in Swan Telecom and Telenor buying a stake in Unitech Wireless was cleared by the Finance Minister in the presence of the Prime Minister. Otherwise, let the Prime Minister deny it,” said Sushil Kumar, counsel for Mr. Raja.
Mr. Kumar said Mr. Chidambaram told the Prime Minister that the “dilution of shares” by the now accused licensees to attract FDI was not illegal and did not amount to “sale of licence,” so Mr. Raja could not be accused of corruption in the spectrum allocation.
On why the pan-India entry fee for 2G licences was not revised from Rs.1,659 crore fixed in 2001, Mr. Raja pointed out that the former Telecom Minister, Arun Shourie, and his successor Dayanidhi Maran had awarded 2G licences at these same rates without going in for an auction. “I have implemented only what I have inherited,” he said. The Cabinet had decided to auction 3G licences while placing no such “obligation” on him to auction 2G licences.
Launching a spirited defence of himself and his fellow accused, Mr. Raja explained the government’s policy to offer tele-services at low rates. “I have done the act in public interest to make mobile services cheap.”
When the court resumed proceedings after lunch, Mr. Kumar took exception to the reporting by news channels that his client had blamed Dr. Singh and Mr. Chidambaram. “I am not shifting the blame to the Prime Minister or the former Finance Minister. I am only defending my conduct in court.”
Mr. Kumar alleged that the CBI was making selective allegations against some persons while leaving out others. He asked why the CBI was not accusing other 2G licensees who sold stakes to foreign players, and other bureaucrats who were in the Telecom Ministry when controversial decisions were taken.
On the charge of criminal conspiracy, Mr. Kumar wondered how Mr. Raja could conspire with Shahid Balwa of Swan Telecom and Sanjay Chandra of Unitech Wireless when the two were “competitors” for spectrum in the same circles.
Counsel also took exception to the court insisting on beginning arguments on charge without completing investigations into the scam. Mr. Raja completed arguments on the criminal conspiracy and cheating charges against him. He is expected to begin arguments on the charges of “forgery” (Section 468 of the IPC) on Tuesday.