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SC Reserves Verdict On Pleas Of Mittal, Ruia In Spectrum Case

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The Supreme Court on Thursday (4 December) reserved its verdict on pleas of Bharti Cellular Ltd CMD Sunil Bharti Mittal and Essar Group promoter Ravi Ruia against a trial court order summoning them as accused in a corruption case related to allocation of additional spectrum during NDA rule in 2002.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu reserved the judgement after senior advocate F S Nariman, appearing for Mittal, concluded the arguments, saying that the trial court erred in summoning his client despite the fact that the CMD was not named as accused in the charge sheet.

"The Assistant Legal Adviser (CBI) said that only public servants be made accused. It was then CBI Director A P Singh who said that the companies can also be made accused," he said, adding that the trial judge went further and summoned Mittal as accused.

The Managing Director cannot be held "vicariously liable" for a criminal offence of a company unless there is evidence, he said.

Nariman told the bench, also comprising justices M B Lokur and A K Sikri, that there was "nothing unusual" in the alleged assertion that Mittal had meetings with then Telecom Minister Pramod Mahajan and then Telecom Secretary Shyamal Ghosh.

Earlier, CBI, which had not charged Mittal and Ruia, had defended the decision of a Special CBI judge to summon them as accused.

The court was hearing petitions seeking setting aside of an order of the Special CBI Judge by which Ruia and Mittal, whose name did not figure in CBI's charge sheet as accused, were summoned on March 19, last year.

The lower court had said that there was "enough material" to proceed against them in the case.

Earlier, Essar Group promoter Ravi Ruia had said that he was not connected with the day-to-day affairs of the accused company Sterling Cellular Ltd and he was wrongly summoned in the case.

Besides Mittal and Ruia, the lower court had also summoned Asim Ghosh, the then Managing Director of accused firm Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd. Ghosh was also not named as accused in the charge sheet.

The trial court had said that Mittal, Ghosh and Ruia used to chair board meetings and "were/are prima facie in control of affairs of the respective companies" and "they are/were 'alter-ego' of their respective companies".

CBI had filed the charge sheet against former Telecom Secretary Shyamal Ghosh and three telecom firms Bharti Cellular Ltd, Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd (now known as Vodafone India Ltd) and Sterling Cellular Ltd (now known as Vodafone Mobile Service Ltd).

Later, the lower court, while taking cognisance of the charge sheet, issued summons to Mittal, Ruia and Asim Ghosh also saying they were "prima facie" in "control of affairs" of their companies named in the charge sheet by CBI in the case.

CBI had booked Shyamal Ghosh and the three telecom firms for the offences of criminal conspiracy (120-B) under IPC and under Prevention of Corruption Act.

The probe agency said the three accused telecom companies were allocated additional spectrum resulting in an alleged loss of Rs 846 crore to the exchequer.

Regarding Ghosh, CBI had said that in conspiracy with the then Telecom Minister Mahajan and the accused telecom firms, he had allegedly abused his official position to show undue favour to the firms causing a loss of Rs 846.44 crore to the exchequer.