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CBI questions officials of four telecom operators

Special Correspondent

Vinod Goenka, partner of Shahid Balwa, was also quizzed

Interrogation is not specific to any one company, says Unitech

The firms face charge of suppression of facts and running short of paid-up capital

NEW DELHI: Stepping up the tempo of its probe into the 2G spectrum scam, the Central Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday summoned for questioning top officials of Unitech Limited, DB Realty Limited that promoted Swan Telecom, Tata Teleservices, S Tel Limited and Loop Telecom.

These companies were given licences in 2008.

Sanjay Chandra, managing director of Unitech Limited; Vinod Goenka, partner of Shahid Balwa, who is the promoter of Swan Telecom and managing director of DB Realty Limited; Sandeep Bassi of Loop Telecom; Arun Mandale of S Tel Limited; and Sanjay Ubale and Kishore Salatore of Tata Teleservices were called to the agency's headquarters and questioned, sources in the CBI said.

While Mr. Balwa, the fourth person to be arrested in the case, is already under custodial interrogation by CBI officials, the others were questioned for the first time over allegations of irregularities and wrongdoings.

The former Communications Minister, A. Raja, who was arrested earlier this month, is still in CBI custody. He has had several sessions with the investigators who are trying to unravel the conspiracy, pin down beneficiaries and track the money trail from the grant of licences and the allocation of spectrum.

Mr. Raja's former personal secretary, R.K. Chandolia, and the former Telecom Secretary, Siddharth Behura, are in judicial custody and are in the Tihar Central Jail here.

A statement by Mr. Sanjay Chandra said, “In continuation of the ongoing investigations, I am here to personally clarify certain issues raised by the CBI. With respect to the investigations by the CBI, pursuant to the Hon'ble Supreme Court, all the nine telecom companies, which received the licences, are being questioned…, and it is not specific to any one company.”

“Unitech Ltd. is a responsible corporate, functioning within the guidelines prescribed by the government and abiding by the law of the land, and has been fully cooperating with the investigating agency. Unitech has cooperated with all investigating agencies from the very beginning as we have nothing to hide. Our officers have provided all records for examination and clarified all issues raised by them from time to time. Going forward, we will continue to assist in the same spirit,” the statement said.

DB Realty, promoted by Mr. Balwa, floated Swan Telecom, which was allegedly helped by Mr. Raja in getting licence for 13 circles, including Mumbai and Delhi, for Rs.1,537 crore. But, soon after getting the spectrum, Swan sold 45 per cent of its shares to the United Arab Emirates-based Etisalat for nearly Rs.4,200 crore.

The CBI has alleged that Swan Telecom and Unitech Telecom together caused a loss of more than Rs.7,000 crore to the exchequer as they offloaded their shares for hefty sums after getting the spectrum. It said the licences were issued at a very nominal rate, based on the prices fixed in 2001, and, that too, without any competitive bidding.

Unitech bagged the Unified Access Service licences in September 2007 and January 2008. It was given UAS licences for 22 circles for Rs.1,658 crore. “It offloaded 60 per cent of shares in the licences to Telenor of Norway for Rs.6,100 crore even before the rollout,” the CBI has alleged.

Allegations against the telecom companies that got the licences range from suppression and misrepresentation of facts about the firms and running short of the requisite paid-up capital to submission of false certificates.

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