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SingTel defends Bharti in India 2G corruption scandal

The Singapore telco has expressed "full faith" in its associate Bharti Airtel, whose chairman was among several key telecom executives summonsed by an Indian special court, regarding the allegedly corrupt allocation of 2G licenses.
Written by Mahesh Sharma, Correspondent

SingTel, which owns about 30 per cent of Bharti Airtel, has defended the Indian telco and its group chairman Sunil Mittal, amid ongoing investigations by an Indian special court.

The Bharti executive, along with former Vodafone managing director Asim Ghosh, were summoned to the next hearing of the corruption case on April 11.


"With reference to the court summons issued to Bharti Airtel, and its chairman, Sunil Bharti Mittal, we reiterate that we have full faith in the company’s corporate governance standards under the leadership of Mittal," SingTel said in a statement Wednesday. 

No charges have been laid against either individuals, however the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) added Bharti and two Vodafone entities to the charge sheet--which has broadly alleged that in 2002, India's then telco minister elicited bribes from carriers eager to secure 2G licenses.

"The Central Bureau of Investigation has asserted that they have not found any evidence of conspiracy against any individual whatsoever," Bharti Airtel stated.

Bharti was "saddened" by the development, and explained the company played by the rules of the day.

"The spectrum allocation--i.e. subject of the charge sheet--was made to Bharti Airtel in December 2003 under the charge of then Minister of Communications in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Arun Shourie, who has already been given a clean chit," it said in the statement.

"The fact also is that the spectrum under [the] government policy of February 1, 2002, which the charge sheet alleges, was issued to benefit Bharti Airtel and Vodafone continued until April 2010 under 3 separate Ministers of Telecom and 6 Secretaries in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and despite being considered by several formal and informal committees of the DoT and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)."

While the telcos are confident that Bharti will beat the CBI's allegations and due process will prevail, the summons will have brought unwanted attention to the company's chairman.

"We would like to reiterate that Bharti Airtel and its promoters have always practised the highest standards of corporate governance and accordingly view the charge sheet as an attempt to tarnish its high reputation," according to Bharti's press release.

"We are disappointed with the charge sheet against a company which is one of the few Indian MNCs, with a reputation for good governance standards.

"We will fight this charge sheet against Bharti Airtel and Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel and a global leader associated with some of the best known institutions of the world and a brand ambassador for India."

On March 19 Livemint reported the CBI couldn't identify the telecom company executives involved in the irregularities, which raised the ire of special court judge O. P. Saini.

However, he believed there was enough merit to summons the telco chiefs, who steered their companies through the murky auction process.

"The acts of the companies are to be attributed and imputed to them. Consequently, I find enough material to proceed against them also," Saini was quoted in Livemint.

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