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Trial starts in high-profile telecom airwaves case

Friday November 11, 2011 06:59:50 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: Over seven months after the first set of charges were framed in the second generation (2G) spectrum case, the trial began Friday despite the prime accused, former telecom minister A. Raja, refusing to query witnesses pending closure of the probe.

"We are beginning the trial, whether you cross-examine witnesses or not," Special Judge O.P. Saini, who is presiding over the special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court, said, setting the stage for a verdict in one of India's most high-profile cases.

There was also some added drama when the accused said they were unable to hear what was going on and demanded that the trial proceedings be shifted to a larger venue, rather than the cramped and crowded court room allocated to this case.

There are 17 accused -- 14 individuals including Raja and his party colleague and Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi Karunanidhi -- and three companies, Unitech Wireless, Swan Telecom and Reliance Telecom, named as co-accused in the case.

Minutes before the trial was to commence, Raja's counsel Sushil Kumar said the witnesses would not be cross-examined till such time the probe was complete and all statements as mandated under Section 244 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) were supplied to him.

"The date for examination of witnesses has been fixed without complying with the mandate provision of CrPc. The applicant has no option but to defer the cross-examination," said Kumar.

Following this, former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, also among the 17 co-accused named in the formal charges, also refused to participate in the questioning, saying: "I do not want to cross examine the witnesses."

Judge Saini, however, declined their pleas and said trial would proceed. He also ordered the recording of the statement of the first prosecution witness -- Anand Subramaniam of Reliance Capital.

The court had summoned two other witnesses for examination Friday -- A.N. Sethuraman of Reliance Group and Vinod Kumar Budhiraja of Etisalat DB Telecom. They are among the 28 witnesses whom the CBI wants to examine in the first instance.

The probe agency had filed the first set of charges April 2 in which it had named as accused Raja, his former personal secretary R.K. Chandolia, Behura, Swan Telecom's Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka, Unitech Wireless' Sanjay Chandra.

It had also named Reliance Group's Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nayar, besides the three firms. The second set of charges April 25 included Kanimozhi, Kalaignar TV's Sharad Kumar, Cineyug Film`s Karim Morani and Kusegaon's Asif Balwa and Rajeev Agarwal.

All the accused are in judicial custody and lodged in Tihar Jail here.

Subramaniam told the court that while he did not have any occasion to work with Reliance Group's Doshi, Pipara and Nayar, he was not aware if Anil Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Group, was also chairman of Swan Telecom.

Sethuraman, on his part, said he did know the three accused from the Reliance Group "as they are my colleagues" and also Swan Telecom. His cross-examination will continue Monday.

The judge also extended the remand of the 14 accused till then. The prosecution and the defence are also scheduled to examine Ashish Karyekar of Reliance Infrastructure during the proceedings Monday.





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