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01 December 2023

Indian tycoon Ambani questioned over telecom scam


Indian telecom tycoon Anil Ambani met police investigators on Wednesday to answer questions over a suspected mobile licensing fraud that robbed the government of billions of dollars.

Ambani's Reliance ADA group, which controls India's second-biggest mobile group Reliance Communications, said the visit by the billionaire to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters in New Delhi was voluntary.

"No summons of any kind has been issued by the CBI," the Reliance statement said.

Ambani, India's fourth-richest man with an estimated $13.7 billion fortune, according to Forbes, met CBI officials "to clarify ongoing issues relating to telecom matters", the group said.

The CBI would not immediately comment on Ambani's visit in connection with the widening police probe into the alleged fraud, one of the biggest corruption cases in Indian history that has badly damaged the Congress-led government which is also battling a slew of other scandals.

Television channels showed the 51-year-old Ambani leaving the CBI offices mobbed by TV crews.

Reliance ADA Group has denied any wrongdoing over the second-generation (2G) licensing scandal in which the government sold mobile licences at knockdown prices in 2008.

Ambani's CBI appearance came after the group said last weekend police had questioned several of its officials over alleged irregularities in the awarding of licences.

The industrialist's CBI visit came after Premier Manmohan Singh earlier Wednesday, in a rare media roundtable, defended himself against accusations of "inaction" in fighting corruption and vowed anyone found guilty would be punished.

The national auditor said late last year irregularities in awarding the sought-after licences cost the public exchequer up to ê40 billion in lost revenues.

The CBI is looking into companies which may have benefited from suspected rigging of licence bidding rules under then telecom minister A. Raja and whether kickbacks were paid.

Raja was arrested with two former aides earlier this month in the scandal along with a senior executive of one of India's biggest real estate firms DB Realty which has a joint telecoms venture with etisalat.

The police agency has not alleged that any of the Reliance ADA Group firms profited from the scam.

It has, however, named India's Swan Telecom - now known as etisalat DB Telecom - and India's second-largest listed real estate Unitech as allegedly having benefited. Unitech has joint telecom venture with Norway's Telenor.

The government auditor accused Reliance Communications, through its Reliance Telecom unit, of violating licensing rules by holding over 10 per cent of rival Swan Telecom when it applied for a licence.

However, Reliance said on Wednesday no Reliance group company "held even a single share in Swan Telecom Ltd at the time of granting of the 2G licence."

All individuals and companies being probed have denied any wrongdoing.