India jails 5 corporate honchos in biggest ever graft bust

In a shocker for a country used to the elite receiving free passes on their crimes, a special Central Bureau of Investigation court denied bail to five corporate honchos accused of wrongdoing in the alleged 2G telecom scam, local news media reports.

Director of Swan Telecom, Vinod Goenka hides his face as he leaves after an appearance in a New Delhi court on April 15, 2011. (MANAN VATSYAYANA - AFP/Getty Images)

According to the Times of India, the five men -- Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group; Sanjay Chandra of Unitech and Vinod Goenka of the DB Group -- represent nearly $8 billion in assets, making their jailing the largest detention of corporate bigwigs that India has ever witnessed.

The Economic Times writes that Pippara looked "nervous and uncomfortable," when he was forced to surrender all his belongings before entering Tihar Jail. He "stood up and struggled to undo his belt," the paper says, while "Unitech's Chandra, who remained a picture of calm through the proceedings, handed over his belt, rings, chains and other belongings to an associate."

All of the accused tried to make one last phone call, ET says. "Gautam Doshi, with his wife beside his side, looked stoic. Goenka appeared calm, but his eyes betrayed the disquiet within."  

Several papers noted that former telecom minister A. Raja (who's already spent some time behind bars) looked at ease during the proceedings, and tried to reassure others that everything would work out in the end.

The BBC provides the usual de rigeur background, of course. But here's the basics for those still wondering if this whole 2G thing is worth a read:

(Courtesy the Beeb)

Raja is accused of selling mobile phone licenses to firms at a fraction of their real value in exchange for bribes in 2008. He denies wrongdoing.

Auditors estimate his actions could have cost the country nearly $40bn in lost revenue.

The issue of corruption has become a major talking point in India.

Raja is on trial along with eight others, including the guys mentioned above and two former civil servants.