The scam that wasn't: 2G verdict lambasts CBI and ED for 'artfully arranging a few facts'
After a special CBI/PMLA court at Patiala House in New Delhi pronounced its verdict in the 2G case and acquitted all those accused in the scam, one thing is clear: India's premier investigation agencies, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), as well as former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai - have egg on their face.
The judge in the case, OP Saini, punctured all claims in the alleged Rs 1.76 lack crore scam, and said that a sam had been made out when there was none.
"Some people created a scam by artfully arranging a few facts. A huge scam was seen by everyone where there was none,” the judge wrote in the order.
“I have absolutely no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove any charge against any of the accused, made in its well choreographed chargesheet,” Saini said, pronouncing the judgement in the case which had become the flogging horse for the ruling BJP to label the UPA II government the most corrupt government ever.
Both the CBI and the ED say they will challenge the verdict in the High Court.
The harsh observations of the court, meanwhile, have not gone unchallenged. “The acquittal of all 2G scam accused by trial court is grossly wrong&sends a signal that influential people are not accountable in this country's judicial system.There was considerable evidence of Benami licences,fixing of the 1st Come 1st served system&also bribes in this. Shame,” tweeted activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
The acquittal of all 2G scam accused by trial court is grossly wrong&sends a signal that influential people are not accountable in this country's judicial system.There was considerable evidence of Benami licences,fixing of the 1st Come 1st served system&also bribes in this. Shame— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) December 21, 2017
Bhushan was also the part of the hugely popular Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement which swayed the popular mood against the ‘corrupt’ UPA II government.
The scam that toppled a govt
The high-profile list of accused in the scam included former telecom minister A Raja, DMK leader and MP A Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu Ammal, former telecom secretary Siddharth Behuria; RK Chandolia, the private secretary to A Raja; Shahid Balwa of Swan Telecom; Unitech executive Sanjay Chandra; Gautam Doshi, Hari Nair and Surendra Pipara of Anil Ambani owned ADAG and other businessman including, Karim Morani, Asif Balwa, Rajiv Agarwal and Sharath Kumar, Ravi Ruia, Anshuman Ruia, Vikash Saraf of Essar, IP Khaitan and Kiran Khaitan of Loop Telecom.
In what became one of the most sensational cases in recent times, it was alleged that Raja, along with other officials, had conspired to change the policy of spectrum auction to a 'first come, first serve' basis and that huge sums of money exchanged hands.
What set off the case was a November 2010 CAG report on “issue of licences and allocation of spectrum” which claimed ineligible applicants were granted licence at prices far below the market rate. Then the CVC, acting on the report, had asked the CBI to investigate the matter. The ED, too, started investigations into issues of money laundering arising out of the alleged kickbacks
The trial court in October 2011 framed charges under various acts including the the Prevention of Corruption Act dealing with offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery, abuse of official position, criminal misconduct, and bribery by public servants.
In its charge sheet, the CBI had alleged a loss of Rs 30,984 crore in allocation of 122 licences. These licenses were later scrapped by the by the Supreme Court which then decided to monitor the investigations.
The ED too had filed a prosecution complaint naming former telecom minister Raja, Kanimozhi and others for alleged money laundering.
A criminal conspiracy
Meanwhile, in the order, the CBI judge says that the apex investigating agency has failed to prove Raja, along with officials from companies that won the licenses was part of a criminal conspiracy to receive kickbacks from the allocation of licenses.
Coming harshly on the prosecution, the judge says “In the beginning, the prosecution started with the case with great enthusiasm and ardour. However, as the case progressed, it became highly cautious and guarded in its attitude making it difficult to find out as to what prosecution wanted to prove.”
Anand Grover was the prosecutor in the case. “By the end, the quality of prosecution totally deteriorated and it became directionless and diffident,” the judge notes.
“I may also add that for the last about seven years, on all working days, summer vacation included, I religiously sat in the open Court from 10 AM to 5 PM, awaiting for someone with some legally admissible evidence in his possession, but all in vain. Not a single soul turned up.” He further says “This indicates that everybody was going by public perception created by rumour, gossip and speculation. However, public perception has no place in judicial proceedings.”
The court also set aside charges of money laundering. “In view of acquittal of accused in the case relating to schedule offence, there are no “proceeds of crime”. “Proceeds of crime” is the foundational fact for the offence of money-laundering. Since there are no “proceeds of crime”, there can be no of..of money-laundering, as nothing remains to be laundered. Thus, the very base of the instant case is gone and the alleged offence stands wiped out.” the order says.
Meanwhile, with their reputation at stake, the ED and the CBI are set to challenge the verdict. The ED has questioned the verdict on how evidence which was appreciated by the Supreme Court has been set aside by the trial court and how the latter framed the charges without appreciating the evidence in the first place.
The case is clearly set to remain a burning issue for a long time.