UPDATE 2-India ex-minister, Reliance ADA co charged in telecoms graft case

* Unitech MD, 3 Reliance ADA officials charged

* Charges include conspiracy, forgery, cheating

* Court orders accused to appear April 13

(Adds more details, names of accused)

By C.J. Kuncheria

NEW DELHI, April 2 (Reuters) – Indian police on Saturday
charged a former minister, Reliance ADA group and the Indian
joint venture partners of Telenor and of Etisalat
, in a multi-billion dollar telecoms licencing
corruption scandal that has rocked the government and business
establishments.

Police indicted Andimuthu Raja, the
telecoms minister at the time of a flawed 2008 mobile phone
licence allocation process, the m anaging
d irector of Telenor’s India
partner Unitech , the vice chairman
of Etisalat’s Indian joint venture and three officials
of Reliance ADA g roup .

“The charges are conspiracy, cheating, forgery of documents,
abuse of official position and abetment,” A.K. Singh, special
public prosecutor told reporters after the charges were filed in
court. Not all of the accused face all five charges.

The graft scandal, potentially India’s largest ever, has
damaged confidence in the Congress-led coalition government, led
to calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,
and worried investors in Asia’s third-largest economy.

(For a Q+A on the scandal, see [ID:nL3E7F11Z5])

It is one of the several corruption scandals that have
emerged during Singh’s second term, hobbling policymaking and
diverting the government’s attention away from pushing forward
crucial economic reforms.

Some of India’s leading businesses have been questioned and
past official decisions scrutinised or reversed. These events
have weighed on stocks, with the Mumbai market ending the March
quarter as the world’s worst performer.

India may have lost as much as $39 billion due to violations
of rules when lucrative mobile phone licences and radio spectrum
were granted in 2008, the state auditor estimated, a sum
equivalent to the country’s defence budget.

Raja was forced to resign and later arrested over the
auditor’s report. He has been accused in court earlier of taking
bribes from two firms which are now part of the India operations
of Etisalat and of Telenor.

Others arrested include Shahid Balwa, the vice chairman of
Etisalat’s Indian venture, and two former government
officials, who were also charged on Saturday.

The Reliance ADA officials accused are Gautam Doshi, a
group managing director, and senior vice presidents Hari Nair
and Surendra Pipara.

All of the accused were ordered to
appear in court on April 13.

GOVERNMENT, INDUSTRY UNDER PRESSURE

Police have earlier questioned Anil Ambani, the billionaire
chairman of Reliance ADA group and Prashant Ruia, the chief
executive of steel-to-telecoms conglomerate Essar group.

A parliamentary panel probing the scandal has summoned
iconic business tycoon Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani for
questioning next week.

All of the accused have denied any wrongdoing.

The telecoms ministry is considering whether to cancel
several licences, after the auditor’s report accused these firms
of not being eligible for them, sparking off worries about
regulatory stability.

The Supreme Court, under its tough new chief justice, has
been monitoring the progress of the case after having
reprimanded Singh for not moving quick enough to act against his
minister.

Faced with a resurgent opposition, Singh’s government has
not been able to undertake economic reforms such as freeing up
diesel prices and allowing foreign investors into the
supermarket sector.

The corruption scandals, which include charges of graft at
the 2010 Commonwealth Games and of officials at state-run banks
taking bribes for corporate loans, have tarnished Singh’s image
as a clean and effective leader.

They could also affect the performance of the ruling Congress
party in five state elections that begin in mid-April, in which
the Congress must perform well or risk the coalition
unravelling.

(Reporting by CJ Kuncheria; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

UPDATE 2-India ex-minister, Reliance ADA co charged in telecoms graft case