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India's top court postpones Bharti boss hearing

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

India's highest court has postponed until further notice a hearing for telecom tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal over corruption allegations involving the allotment of telecom airwaves.

Mittal, chief of Bharti Airtel, India's biggest mobile operator, was last month for the first time personally dragged into the second-generation (2G) spectrum allocation controversies that have shaken the country in recent years.

But the Supreme Court late Friday said Mittal's hearing on the allegations was being "postponed" until further notice. He was due to appear in court on Monday.

At the same time, the court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to respond to Mittal's challenge of the federal police agency's summoning of him before a special CBI court.

Afterwards the Supreme Court said it will consider the arguments.

The police agency alleges former Indian telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh conspired with now-deceased telecom minister Pramod Mahajan to allot extra spectrum in 2002 at below-market prices to companies.

The agency alleges the events, said to have taken place under the previous Bharatiya Janata Party government, deprived the treasury of 8.46 billion rupees ($156 million) in lost revenues.

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, have been charged in the 2008 case.

The CBI registered preliminary conspiracy and misconduct charges against Bharti Airtel and Vodafone's India unit last December in connection with the 2002 airwaves allotment.

But it was only last month that Mittal and Ravi Ruia, a former executive of mobile company Hutchison-Essar, now owned by Britain's Vodafone, were personally named in the cases.

Ruia has also been told he does not have to immediately appear in court.

Special CBI Judge O.P. Saini, who last month ordered the businessmen to appear before the CBI court, had said they represented the "will of each company" and there was enough "incriminating" evidence to proceed against them.

Both the companies and individuals have denied any wrongdoing and Bharti has said the extra 2G spectrum allocation was to "improve the quality of service".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130427/indias-top-court-postpones-bharti-boss-hearing-0