Fri, Feb 04, 2011 - Page 3 News List

Arrested former Indian minister heads to court

AFP, NEW DELHI

India’s former telecom minister A. Raja was expected in court yesterday after being arrested in one of India’s biggest ever corruption probes, police said.

Raja, who maintains his innocence, was formally arrested by officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday as part of a probe into the graft-tainted sale of second-generation (2G) telecom licenses in 2008.

Police are expected to ask the court in New Delhi to grant them the right to keep Raja — and two other senior officials arrested with him — in custody to enable further interrogation.

Raja, a politician from a regional party in south India, was forced out of government in November as public outrage mounted over the 2008 sale of the licenses at knock-down prices.

The licenses were sold on a first-come, first-served basis instead of via an auction and the ministry is suspected of changing the rules to favor certain companies, many of which were ineligible to bid.

A study by the auditor, the comptroller and auditor general, found that losses from the cut-price sales could have cost the national treasury up to US$40 billion, though this figure is disputed by the government.

It is rare for a senior political figure who left the government just 10 weeks ago to be arrested and the move reflects the pressure on the government to act in a case that has been front-page news for months.

The so-called 2G scandal has engulfed India’s Congress Party-led coalition government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, causing some of the strongest political headwinds since they came to power six years ago.

The Supreme Court has consistently pressured the government, asking why Singh failed to act against Raja earlier and querying why police had taken until December to question the minister.

In six decades, only one senior Indian politician at the national level, Rao Shiv Bahadur Singh, has been convicted of graft and served a jail term — for taking a bribe back in 1949.

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