India court summons Bharti boss in mobile spectrum case

An Indian court on Tuesday ordered Sunil Bharti Mittal, the billionaire head of India's biggest mobile firm, to appear in court to face corruption accusations over the 2002 allotment of telecom airwaves.

The summons stems from a decision by India's Supreme Court ordering the federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate possible wrongdoing in allocating mobile airwaves from 2001 to 2007.

Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel, and Asim Ghosh and Ravi Ruia, two former executives of Indian mobile company Hutchison-Essar -- now owned by Britain's Vodafone -- were ordered to appear in court on April 11.

The men were "in control of affairs of the respective companies", said special CBI Judge O.P. Saini, who issued the summonses dating from events alleged to have taken place under the previous Bharatiya Janata Party national government.

"They represent the directing mind and will of each company," Saini said, adding he was "satisfied there is enough incriminating material on record to proceed against the accused persons".

Mittal is one of India's most respected businessmen. Up to now, he has not been personally dragged into the second-generation (2G) spectrum allocation controversies that have shaken the country over the past couple of years.

Police allege that former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh conspired with now-deceased telecom minister Pramod Mahajan to allot mobile spectrum in 2002 at below-market prices to the companies, costing the treasury 8.46 billion rupees ($156 million) in lost revenues.

Bharti Airtel and Vodafone's India unit had earlier been charged with alleged irregularities in the 2002 airwaves allotment but no company executives had been named. The companies have denied any wrongdoing.

This case is separate from a massive 2008 spectrum allocation scandal in which India's Congress government allegedly under-priced spectrum and favoured certain firms, costing the treasury up to 176.64 billion rupees ($32 billion).

Some 19 people, including former telecom minister A. Raja, and three companies have been charged in the 2008 case -- one of a string of scandals that has buffeted the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.