On Thursday, a special court acquitted all the accused in the 2G spectrum allocation case. They include politicians, bureaucrats and corporate executives who had been charged with undervaluing the telecom spectrum so as to favour select companies, thereby defrauding the public exchequer.
Alleged to be the largest corruption scandal in India, the 2G case shook up the country’s political arrangement. It was used by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its affiliates in the Sangh Parivar to paint the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government of the time as incorrigibly corrupt, and win power in 2014.
Here is a list of the key players in the case, what role they played and where they stand today.
Then: A Raja, minister for communications and information technology between May 2007 and November 2010, was the main accused in the case. The four-time Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in 2011 after the Comptroller and Auditor General of India alleged he had indulged in corruption. In February 2012, the Supreme Court held that Raja “wanted to favour some companies at the cost of the Public Exchequer” thereby cancelling 122 licences awarded by the Union government.
Now: In May 2012, Raja was granted bail on the condition that he stay away from his home state of Tamil Nadu and the office of telecom department. He was politically inactive since, but is now expected to return to mainstream Tamil politics. After his acquittal, Raja thanked his party chief M Karunanidhi, writing, “I place the 2G verdict at your feet with gratitude. You preserved me in snow so I wouldn’t dissolve in the spectrum battle.”
Then: Kanimozhi is the daughter of DMK chief Karunanidhi and his third wife Rajathi Ammal. She was one of the owners of Kalaignar TV, which allegedly received bribes from a telecom company on behalf of Raja. In court, the CBI called Kanimozhi the “controlling mind behind Kalaignar TV”. She was arrested in May 2011 and spent nearly six months in jail before being bailed out.
Now: Like Raja, the acquittal is certain to resurrect Kanimozhi’s political career. She is currently a Rajya Sabha MP representing Tamil Nadu.
Then: Much before he merged his Janata Party with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Subramanian Swamy played a key role in the 2G case. He wrote letters to then Prime Minister Singh and filed a criminal complaint against Raja and others in the Supreme Court. Swamy had also alleged that then Union home minister P Chidambaram should be made a co-accused with Raja, as the latter could not have moved ahead without a nod from the finance ministry, headed by Chidambaram at the time of spectrum allotment.
Now: Swamy was mostly ignored by the Modi government when it took office in 2014 despite his key role in raking muck in the 2G case. In 2016, he was nominated (not elected) to the Rajya Sabha by the Union government. The acquittals in the 2G case have come as a blow to Swamy, and he has attacked the Modi government. “My party is not serious when it comes to dealing with corruption,” said Swamy, arguing that there might be repercussion in 2019, and blamed it on internal
Then: Acting on behalf of the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan was the first to move the Delhi High Court seeking cancellation of 2G licences issued in 2008 on 2001 prices, alleging that rules were bent to favour the rich and the influential, when a competitive bidding process should have been followed. Eventually the Supreme Court not only cancelled the licences but also ordered a court-monitored investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Bhushan had also sought the appointment of a Special Investigation Team to oversee the CBI’s inquiry, which was turned down.
Now: The activist-lawyer has also turned to politics since then. After being briefly associated with the Aam Aadmi Party, he is now is a founding member of the Swaraj Abhiyan. “I don’t know on what basis the court said there was no evidence,” Bhushan said. “In at least 40 pages of the judgment, the court has reproduced the evidence given by the CBI showing illegal gratification.”
Goolam Essaji Vahanvati
Then: He was the solicitor general when the 2G licenses were issued. Raja had argued that Vahanvati had cleared his policies and gave them a legal stamp. Later as attorney general, Vahanvati also appeared as a witness in the politically-sensitive case and said a press note which he had cleared for inviting application for spectrum allocation in 2008 was altered before its release.
Now: Vahanvati died in May 2014. “It is clear that Vahanvati knew all the facts about change in policy from date of application to date of payment, but tried to wriggle out of the same in the witness box,” the court said. “Bare perusal of his testimony reveals that he was quite evasive in his deposition and tried to resort to legalese and technicalities to avoid answering questions in a truthful manner.”
Then: Rai was the Comptroller and Auditor General of India at the time Manmohan Singh was the prime minister. Rai calculated that the alleged scam in the allocation of 2G spectrum was worth Rs 1.76 lakh crore, which if true, would have made it one of the largest corruption scandals anywhere in the word, ever.
Now: In January 2017, Rai was appointed interim president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, one of the richest sports bodies in the world. He was also chosen to head the powerful Banks Board Bureau by the Modi government in 2016. The Bureau will oversee improvement in the governance of public sector banks and has the power to recommend the heads of various institutions.
Then: Behura was secretary of the Department of Telecommunication from January 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009. According to the CBI, Behura conspired with Raja to favour certain telecom companies in acquiring spectrum licences.
Now: Behuria was arrested by the CBI in 2011 but granted bail in just a little over a year.
Then: Chandolia was Raja’s private secretary when the licences were granted. As per the CBI’s chargesheet in the case, Chandolia also conspired with Raja to favour certain telecom companies. Along with Behura, Chandolia allegedly shut application counters to block competing companies from applying for licences.
Now: Arrested by the CBI in 2011, he was granted bail in 2012. He was acquitted of all charges on Thursday.
Then: Sinha led the CBI from 2012 to 2014 when it was investigating the 2G case. He came under a cloud after a residential entry register was discovered that showed some of the accused in the case had been frequently visiting him. The Supreme Court even asked him to remove himself from the case.
Now: Sinha says he feels vindicated given that a special court has found no evidence of corruption. “Internal communications had been leaked and there was a vilification campaign against me,” Sinha said. “My reputation was in tatters and with this trial court judgment, I feel vindicated today.”
Then: Chandra, former Unitech Wireless managing director and chairman of the board of Uninor, was accused of collaborating with Raja to acquire spectrum at an unjustifiably low price. Soon after acquiring the licences, Unitech entered into a joint venture with Telenor, a Norwegian state-owned telecommunications company.
Now: Following the cancellation of the 2G licences by the Supreme Court, the joint venture was dissolved, with Unitech exiting and all Uninor assets being transferred to Telenor. Uninor was the player most hit by the cancellation of licences given it had 36.3 million customers and licences in 22 circles. Chandra was acquitted of all charges by the special court on Thursday.
Then: Goenka was the managing director of Swan Telecom, a company floated by DB Realty, and was accused of cheating and conspiracy in the allocation of 2G spectrum. Moreover, Swan Telecom was accused of being a front company for the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group. As a shell company, Swan would have been ineligible to even bid for the spectrum, much less acquire it. DB Realty, a major real estate company, was promoted by Goenka and his partner Shahid Balwa.
Now: After all the accused were acquitted on Thursday, the stock of DB Realty surged.
Ravi Ruia and Anshuman Ruia
Now: The Ruias are promoters of the Essar Group, a large conglomorate with interests in energy, metals, mining, infrastructure, among other sectors.
Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group executives
Then: The CBI charge sheet of April 2011 included the names of then group managing director Gautam Doshi, and senior vice presidents Hari Nair and Surendra Pipara. The CBI alleged that
Reliance Telecom Ltd, the telecom division of Reliance ADAG, had used Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd. as a front company to get the 2G licences, funding it through a “circuitous route”. Group chairman Anil Ambani was granted the status of a prosecution witness on the understanding that he could assist in the prosecution case against his own executives. The CBI special prosecutor, UU Lalit – who is now a Supreme Court judge – was reported to have declared Ambani a “hostile witness”, which was denied by Ambani’s lawyer who said Ambani was suffering from a “memory loss”.
Now: Reliance ADAG group says it welcoms the verdict and acquittal of its three executives. The group has recently been in news for its defence arm, Reliance Defence Limited, signing a joint venture for the biggest-ever Indian defence deal with Dassault Aviation for the manufacture of Rafale aircraft.