An Indian court acquitted all accused, including former telecoms minister A. Raja, in a long-running corruption case regarding the sale of 2G licences in 2008, due to a lack of evidence.
A total of 19 people were cleared of wrongdoing during the hearing at a court in New Delhi, putting an end to one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals. In addition to Raja, the case also included other politicians and business executives.
The case related to the sale of 2G spectrum and telecoms permits in 2008, in an auction conducted on a ‘first come first served basis’, allowing certain companies to pick up licences on the cheap.
Several companies participating in the auction had little or no telecoms experience and their investments allowed them to broker deals with overseas companies looking to enter the Indian market.
For example, Swan Telecom acquired 13 regional licences for $270 million and then sold a 45 per cent stake to UAE-based Etisalat for $750 million: Unitech Wireless paid $300 million in the auction and then sold a 60 per cent stake to Norway’s Telenor for $1.2 billion.
Auditors estimated the scandal cost the country as much as $28 billion in lost income.
In 2012, India’s supreme court cancelled all 122 licences awarded in the sale, which were held by eight operators in total, ruling the licences were illegal and the process had been “wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest”.
Indeed, there were also longer-term impacts to the Indian market and questions raised about the viability of investing there.
The Economic Times described the acquittal as a “shock verdict”, while defence lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said the court declared “the prosecution has miserably failed to prove any of its charges”.
As well as Raja, who has served 15 months in prison over the case, Swan Telecom promoters, three executives from Reliance and an executive from Unitech Wireless were also acquitted.