New Delhi, Dec 21 : A special court on Thursday acquitted former Telecom Minister A. Raja and Kanimozhi of DMK as well as businessmen and executives accused of bribery in the 2008 allocation of 2G telecom spectrum, an alleged scam that contributed to the Congress-led UPA's defeat in the 2014 parliamentary elections.
Special Judge O.P.
Saini said the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate had failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove the charges against 33 persons named in the case and the court has "absolutely no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove any charge against any accused".
In his 1,552-page judgment, the judge said it was actually confusion caused by "various actions and inactions" of the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) that snowballed into a "huge scam seen by everyone where there was none".
He said many facts in the prosecution's "well choreographed chargesheet" were found to be incorrect.
"All the accused are acquitted." The court also let off 19 accused including Raja and Kanimozhi in a related money laundering case probed by the Enforcement Directorate.
Also acquitted was DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu Ammal. Others exonerated included then Telecom Secretary Siddhartha Behura, Raja's former private secretary R.K.
Chandolia, Essar Teleholdings' Ravi Ruia and Anshuman Ruia, Loop Telecom's Kiran Khaitan and I.P. Khaitan, DB Realty's Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka and former Reliance Group executives Gautam Doshi, Surendra Piparia and Hari Nair.
The so-called scam hit the headlines after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its report in 2010 claimed that the Telecom Ministry had caused a notional loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the national exchequer by allocating 2G spectrum and licences to some companies at throwaway prices.
The Time magazine ranked it as the world's second-biggest abuse of executive power after the infamous Watergate scandal in the US.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other opposition parties raked the alleged coalition vociferously in Parliament, accusing then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of complicity.
The CAG report gave rise to a massive anti-corruption stir in Delhi led by social activist Anna Hazare and India Against Corruption.
It became one of the main targets of the BJP against the UPA in the 2014 general election.
The Supreme Court eventually cancelled the 122 telecom licences issued during the term of Raja, who was accused of bending and modifying rules for a chosen few and was alleged to have received kickbacks in the form of a Rs 200 crore loan funnelled into DMK's Kalaingar TV.
The CBI alleged that the government had lost Rs 30,984 crore by allocating the 2G licences on a first-come-first-served basis at prices dating back to 2001.
Judge Saini trashed the CBI charges.
"There is no evidence on the record produced indicating any criminality in the acts allegedly committed by the accused persons."
The judge said the prosecution presented no records to suggest that Raja was the "mother lode of conspiracy" in the so-called scam created "by artfully arranging a few selected facts and exaggerating things beyond recognition to astronomical levels".
Hours after the court verdict, select telecom stocks rose on the S (and) P BSE.
Healthy gains were seen in scrip of Reliance Communications (RCom), which rose 4.05 per cent, and Idea Cellular's stock which edged-higher by 3.37 per cent.
The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate said they would appeal in the High Court against the exoneration as the special court failed to note in "proper perspective" the prosecution's evidence.
Raja, who spent 15 months in jail during 2011-12, said the verdict vindicated his innocence as "vested interests manipulated public perception by leveraging the media and sensationalising fabricated allegations" against him.
Kanimozhi, who was also in Tihar Jail for nearly six months in 2011, said she was putting the whole thing behind her.
"It was a harrowing experience to be accused of something which you haven't done and being accused of a corruption that you have never been a part of."
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose image took a battering due to the alleged scandal, said the verdict had proved that all the "massive propaganda against the UPA was without any foundation".
But Finance Minister Arun Jaitley mocked at the Congress for "treating this judgement as some kind of a badge of honour and a certification that it was an honest policy".
He said that in 2007-08, spectrum was not given on the basis of auction but on the price discovery mode made in 2001.
"The first-come-first-served policy then got converted to first-come-first-pay."
The Congress sought apologies from Vinod Rai and the BJP for its "smear campaign" against the UPA.
But the CPI-M urged the government to continue pursuing legally the 2G spectrum allocation case as "it was well-established that the allocation of 2G spectrum had caused a big loss calculated to be Rs 1,76,000 crore by the CAG".