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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Court acquits Indian former minister over huge telecoms scandal

Unable to prove Andimuthu Raja and others had conspired to receive kickbacks from the sale of phone permits, causing a loss to the government

Commuters use their mobile phones as they wait at a bus stop with an advertisement of Reliance Industries' Jio telecoms unit, in Mumbai, India. Shailesh Andrade/Reuters
Commuters use their mobile phones as they wait at a bus stop with an advertisement of Reliance Industries' Jio telecoms unit, in Mumbai, India. Shailesh Andrade/Reuters

A lower court in New Delhi acquitted the former Indian telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja on charges of corruption and cheating in the sale of 122 airwaves licences in 2008 that derailed the then Manmohan Singh-led government.

Justice OP Saini said investigators could not prove that Mr Raja along with some officials from companies that won the licences for telecom services had conspired to receive kickbacks from the sale of phone permits, causing a loss to the government. Reliance ADA Group officials - Gautam Doshi, Hari Nair and Surendra Pipara - and two promoters of DB Realty, Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka were also let off by the court. The charges against Essar Group promoters, Anshuman and Ravi Ruia, were also scrapped.

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With eight states going to polls in the coming year, the verdict is seen as a blow to the prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which has won a series of elections since 2014, capitalising on corruption charges against the previous Congress-led government. Federal investigators alleged the sale had caused a loss of US$4.8 billion while the auditor had pegged the figure at about $31bn.

The telecom scandal had led to India’s top court cancelling 122 licences sold to companies, including the local joint ventures of Norway’s Telenor and Russia’s AFK Sistema. The 2008 sale was flawed and influenced by those with money power, the court had said in 2012.