Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid is again in the spotlight for his public utterances and official letters that allegedly give a clean chit to the Essar and Reliance (Anil Ambani) Groups for cross-holdings in Loop Telecom and Swan Telecom respectively. The accused are now using Salman Khurshid’s letters in the courts to defend themselves.
Telecom Watchdog, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and petitioner in the 2G scam, on Monday requested the Supreme Court to take suo motu note of the deliberate interference of some Union ministers in the ongoing 2G scam investigations, and especially Salman Khurshid. It has sought the initiation of criminal and civil contempt proceedings against him.
The Union government had earlier submitted an affidavit defending Khurshid and called the 2G litigation a ‘political interest litigation.’ In a counter-affidavit, the Telecom Watchdog alleged that Khurshid’s interference was clear from the clean chit he gave to the Essar/Loop and Swan/Reliance linkages.
The Watchdog’s counter-affidavit said that the Attorney General, while giving his opinion, had listed out as many as 22 grounds for booking Essar/Loop in a case of cheating. “Despite this, the law ministry, under instructions from Mr Khurshid, at the instance of the accused company, gave an opinion that no case is made out. This opinion, along with the law ministry’s earlier opinion, is now being used by the accused while seeking quashing of charges,” argues the Watchdog.
Listing earlier reports from the Enforcement Directorate and the Reserve Bank of India, the counter-affidavit argued that these institutions had already given their observation that Loop was owned and controlled by Essar. “Despite this, Mr Khurshid has gone ahead with his opinion in the matter, contradicting the findings of the other departments, including the CBI.”
The Telecom Watchdog alleges that Khurshid had interfered in the Swan Telecom case too, when he was the corporate affairs minister. The minister had allegedly approved a letter (dated 24 December 2010) which cleared Swan of the charge of cross-holdings by Reliance. Under telecom rules, an existing operator like Reliance Communications (RCom) cannot hold 10 percent or more in another telecom company in the same circle. RCom has, of course, contested this allegation.
The Telecom Watchdog counter-affidavit says that Khurshid’s opinion “was sent even after the Comptroller and Auditor General had (raised) serious doubts over Reliance’s effective control over Swan, the unequivocal complaint of Arun Agarwal (a lawyer who first showed how Swan could be a front for Reliance) and the order dated 16 December 2010 of the apex court directing a court-monitored investigation”.
The accused in the Swan case are now using Khurshid’s opinion in the court for quashing the charges against them. The accused include three senior executives of the Reliance group and the top bosses on DB Realty.
Telecom Watchdog says Khurshid is still battling for the companies that are beneficiaries of the 2G scam. This amounts to clear abuse of ministerial authority to benefit private companies, especially when the Supreme Court had given clear instructions that “no one shall interfere with the functioning of CBI team and the officers of ED who are investigating what has been described as the 2G scam”. The NGO hoped that the court would take “serious cognisance of any endeavour by any person or group of persons in this regard.”