|Gone in 60 seconds|
|Monday, 04 April 2011 00:00|
Given how witnesses have a tendency to turn hostile—or commit suicide (like Sadiq Batcha)—in high-profile cases, and the holes in the chargesheet filed in the A Raja scam, the CBI did well to delay appearing in the trial court on Saturday. With the nation’s attention riveted on the India-Sri Lanka final when the CBI came in, few studied the chargesheet in detail. The CBI has made some progress though. Pointing out Swan Telecom and Unitech got some of their bank drafts made before the telecom ministry issued letters of intent is important, as is the statement that Swan was wholly owned by Reliance ADAG—90.1% of Swan was owned by Tiger Traders which, the CBI found, was an ADAG associate, a fact that ADAG has been denying so far. Much of this was pointed out by CAG (it cited ADAG’s infusion of R992 crore of preference capital in Swan as proof of its ownership), but if CBI investigations show the same thing, this augurs well.
Yet, the chargesheet has many holes and to the extent proving the case depends upon the strength of witnesses, the choice of witnesses is somewhat curious. The main charge against Raja is that he changed the definition of the First Come First Served policy to benefit certain telcos. Well, the Solicitor General (now Attorney General) who is a CBI witness is the one who approved this! The AG says a vital paragraph of what he approved was dropped but, as this newspaper has pointed out, what was dropped was largely irrelevant. Once Raja’s counsel points out the SG/AG cleared the operative part of FCFS, the case will suffer a serious setback—Gone in 60 seconds, to use the title of the famous Nicholas Cage thriller. Equally curious is calling Niira Radia as a witness since she was, till recently, in the dock for her alleged role in influencing Raja. One of Radia’s clients (Tata) has been declared innocent so far, and the other (Unitech) guilty, so is the strategy that Radia turns state’s approver on Unitech? Seems risky, given how witness testimony can change.
The Supreme Court had asked the CBI to investigate how firms had been given dual-technology licences before the policy was announced, but the CBI has nothing on it, except to incorrectly cite Trai on this. Indeed, it is curious the chargesheet doesn’t mention the fact that since Raja did not get a mandatory Trai recommendation on introducing new licensees, all 157 licences issued were illegal—CBI’s focus seems to be only on the 35 licences issued to Swan/Unitech.
Finding of a smoking gun, in any trial, is always critical. But the CBI says it has yet to make significant headway in the R200 crore invested by Shahid Balwa in the DMK chief’s wife’s and daughter’s TV channel. Nor does the chargesheet explain why salaried officials of ADAG should hatch a conspiracy on their own, especially since the group put in R1,000 crore into Swan — it also makes you wonder about the quality of audit if no one catches such paper trails in the normal course. The CBI has a long haul ahead. Let’s hope the second chargesheet is better than the first one. Perhaps the Court should reconsider its decision not to vet the chargesheet—after all, the CBI was reluctant to even seriously investigate matters until the Court stepped in.