India telecom probe to question popular tycoon

Ratan Tata

An Indian parliamentary panel investigating the controversial award of telecoms licences is due to question some of the country’s biggest tycoons.

Ratan Tata and Reliance’s Anil Ambani are among those due to appear at the hearing, which begins on Monday.

Police say that in 2007-08, when India issued 122 new telecoms licences, several rules were violated and bribes were paid to favour certain firms.

On Saturday, a former minister was charged in connection with the sale.

Andimuthu Raja, who was telecoms minister at the time of the auction, is charged with conspiracy, forgery and fraud.

The unfolding story has shaken both government and business establishments.

Several of the licences were issued to firms with no experience in the telecoms sector in a process described by an auditor’s report as lacking transparency and “undertaken in an arbitrary, unfair and inequitable manner”.

It said some licences went to companies that were ineligible, or had suppressed relevant facts, and cost $39bn in lost revenue

Police have accused Mr Raja of having taken bribes from two firms which are now the local joint venture partners of Telenor and Etisalat.

The telecoms ministry is considering whether to cancel some 85 licences which the audit report says were issued to firms which were ineligible for them.

Many of India’s biggest business names have already been questioned, including billionaires Anil Ambani, chairman of Reliance ADA group, and Prashant Ruia, chief executive of Essar Group.

Mr Raja denies wrongdoing. Last year he was forced to resign over the issue.

India has the world’s fastest growing mobile market, with about half a billion subscribers to date.
Source: BBC

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