But the most serious charges in the case, controversially introduced by the CBI just a few weeks ago, are criminal breach of trust by a public servant for Mr Raja and Siddharth Behura, who was Telecom Secretary, and criminal conspiracy to cause criminal breach of trust by a public servant for the 12 others. The maximum sentence for these charges is life imprisonment. (2G scam: Charges against Raja, others)
As the trial begins, the spotlight will remain relentlessly on Mr Raja and Kanimozhi, the daughter of heavyweight Southern politician M Karunanidhi who heads the DMK, a major partner in the UPA coalition at the Centre. The arrest of his favourite child has tested the collaboration between the Congress and his party, though both sides have on record reiterated that their partnership is steady. Mr Karunanidhi visited Sonia Gandhi for 15 minutes this morning before driving to Judge Saini's court where he dropped off Kanimozhi's mother. The DMK chief also met with the Prime Minister in the evening.
"Raja and Kanimozhi are very confident that they have not done anything illegal or wrong, so they will come out clean," said senior DMK leader TKS Elangovan.
Mr Raja has been in jail since February. Telecom executives like Sanjay Chandra of Unitech Wireless and Gautam Doshi, Hari Nair and Surendra Pipara of Reliance Telecom were imprisoned in April. Kanimozhi was arrested in May. (In Pics: A-listers in Tihar)
Because the charges have been framed now, the 14 people accused have a better shot at leaving jail. All of them except Mr Raja have already applied for bail. CBI sources have said that the agency, which has opposed two petitions by Kanimozhi for bail in the past few months, may not fight her latest request, scheduled to be heard on Monday by Judge Saini.
In a statement, the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) said, "Framing of charges doesn't imply guilt. An application for quashing charges will be moved in the Delhi High Court." Reliance Telecom is a part of ADAG.
The telecom scam was webbed, according to the CBI, in 2008 by Mr Raja when he was Telecom Minister. He ignored advice, including from the Prime Minister, to auction second-generation or 2G spectrum. Instead, he allotted licenses and accompanying second-generation or 2G spectrum on a first-come-first-serve basis that were twisted to help companies Mr Raja allegedly conspired with. The minister set a deadline for filing applications in September 2008; in January 2010, he made a last-minute announcement that licenses would be given to those who filed their "Letters of Intent" first. The deadline for filing these documents and cheques was within hours of Mr Raja's revision of rules. A few companies like Swan and Unitech were ready with their cheques - the CBI believes they had been tipped off by the minister. And amid a fair amount of chaos, 122 licenses were issued to nine companies at a cost of Rs. 1600 crores each.
Swan Telecom allegedly repaid Mr Raja with a 214-crore cheque routed through a maze of companies to Kalaignar TV, a local channel in Chennai. Kanimozhi and her stepmother own 80 per cent of the channel. Kanimozhi's lawyers have said the money was a loan which was returned with interest, and that she was not involved with the daily management of the company. The CBI has contested this, describing her as "the active brain" behind Kalaignar. The agency has said it has uncovered the money trail for this bribe.
Mr Raja, like the others accused, has rejected all charges against him. In his defense he said that the Prime Minister, and P Chidambaram who was Finance Minister at the time, were kept informed of his plan of action. If they disagreed with his guidelines, he has challenged, they could have over-ruled him. He has also threatened to call the PM as a witness.
The telecom scam hurtled the government into crisis mode in November, when the government's auditor declared the scam had cost India Rs. 1.76 lakh crores, forcing a reluctant Mr Raja to resign as Telecom Minister. The CBI has said it believes the losses are in the range of Rs. 30,000 crores. The government's regulator for telecom policy - TRAI - has said it does not believe there were any losses since it does not believe spectrum should have been auctioned.
Many of the CBI's heftiest accusations have been contested by the government. For example, the CBI says the three Reliance executives in jail - Gautam Doshi, Surender Pipara and Hari Nair- set up Swan Telecom as a front for their company to collect more spectrum and licenses than were legally permissible. But the Law Ministry has said that after examining the details, Swan cannot technically be considered "an associate" of Reliance.
The CBI alleges both Swan and Unitech Wireless made huge profits by buying their 2G licenses cheaply and then selling stake to foreign partners at huge profits. Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal has said that the transactions were legal because "what occurred was dilution of equity and not the sale of equity."
The CBI has also has also said in court that it has not found any evidence of a kickback from Mr Chandra's Unitech Wireless to Mr Raja.
The 2G trial commences at a time when the country is in the mood to hold politicians accountable for the rot that has been backlit by a series of swindles. The net worth of the 2G scam allows it to grab top spot on that list. The anti-corruption movement headed by Gandhian Anna Hazare delivered such massive crowds that the Opposition has quickly scrambled to appropriate the agenda, with LK Advani of the BJP launching a rath yatra to promote "clean governance."
Mr Raja's repeated references to the Prime Minister and P Chidambaram have echoed within all opposition parties who say the PM must take accountability for allowing the telecom scam to play out. A document from the Finance Ministry, prepared this year, caused a political seizure - it said Mr Chidambaram could have enforced an auction of spectrum when he was Finance Minister and Mr Raja was busy mapping out a crooked policy.
The excavation of that document by a Right to Information activist allowed the Opposition to demand with more surety the resignation of Mr Chidambaram, who is now Home Minister. A week after the document was presented in the Supreme Court, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee clarified it was prepared with inputs from different ministries, and that he did not agree with all of its inferences. Various petitioners like Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy have said the Supreme Court should order the CBI to investigate Mr Chidambaram's role. Though the CBI has said this is not needed, the Supreme Court has yet to indicate its stand.
The Complete List of those accused in the 2G Scam
Former Telecom Minister A Raja; Former Telecom Secretary Siddharth Behura; Former Personal Secretary to A Raja RK Chandolia; Group MD, Reliance- ADAG, Gautam Doshi; Senior Vice President, Reliance- ADAG, Surendra Pipara; Senior Vice President, Reliance- ADAG, Hari Nair; Former MD, Unitech Wireless Sanjay Chandra; Promoter of DB Realty and Swan Telecom Shahid Balwa, Promoter and MD, DB Realty and Swan Telecom Vinod Goenka; MD, Kalaignar TV Sharath Kumar, DMK chief M Karunanidhi's daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi; Director, Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables Rajeev Agarwal; Director, Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables Asif Balwa; Promoter of Cineyug Films Karim Morani; Reliance Telecommunication; Unitech Wireless Pvt Ltd (Tamil Nadu) and Swan Telecom.
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