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2G collusion: ‘Dirty tricks department’ may still be at it

By Venky Vembu

Is the CBI really earnest about plugging the gaping holes in its prosecution following the CNN-IBN expose of its 2G scam case prosecutor AK Singh working in tandem with one of the accused, Unitech MD Sanjay Chandra, to sabotage the trial?

Comments from CBI chief Ranjit Sinha, which suggest that the investigating agency responded with alacrity to the audio recording of a conversation purportedly between AK Singh and Chandra, which was made available by anonymously, give reason to believe that the CBI is cleaning up its act.

CBI chief Ranjit Sinha. Image courtesy PIB

CBI chief Ranjit Sinha. Image courtesy PIB

Sinha has indicated that although the audiotape was awaiting the verdict of a forensic investigation, prima facie, it points to active collusion in a manner that sought to derail the trial by revealing the prosecution strategy - and advising an accused on how best to demolish the case. Although Sinha sought to make light of the expose, suggesting that it was an aberration, he noted that the agency had initiated a preliminary inquiry against AK Singh.

But the pronouncements of other unnamed, but apparently highly-placed sources in India's foremost investigating agency, give reason to believe that the 'dirty tricks' department is still working overtime. While it is nobody's case that AK Singh deserves to be condemned without awaiting a formal forensic investigation establishes his culpability in the episode, the efforts of at least some in the CBI appear to pre-judge the issue - in AK Singh's favour!

Specious theories that suggest that AK Singh may have been the victim of a "corporate rivalry" are being planted in the media by unidentified CBI sources, who sound overenthusiastic about establishing his innocence in the matter.

For instance, this report cites an unnamed but senior CBI official as suggesting, bizarrely, that AK Singh is the victim in this case.

"Someone may be trying to frame him (AK Singh)," says the official. "We will do justice to Singh and get to the bottom of the genuineness of this tape. Besides this tape, there has never been any suspicion on Singh."

Do 'justice' to AK Singh? Hello, it is he who stands accused of one of the most egregious unethical practices for a prosecutor: working to lose the case he has been tasked to win. And that too in a case that is being directly monitored by the Supreme Court - because of its landmark nature. If that accusation is established, AK Singh ought, by rights, to be disbarred from ever handling cases again.

But in any case, until his innocence is established, his professional peers and fellow-travellers must at least maintain a semblance of objectivity, instead of speaking of securing "justice" for him.

The official is quoted further as saying that the agency suspected that the damning audio recording may have the result of corporate espionage. "Corporate warfare is an aspect we are looking at," the official said, hinting at a 'conspiracy' behind the tape being leaked to a news channel just days before the meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Committee.

"The conversation seems to be dating back to September or October last year, and the timing of the leak now-after so many months-was an interesting aspect of the matter," the official said.

Establishing motive is, of course, a critical consideration, but its only a subplot.Far more important is establishing the veracity of the accusation.

If the audiotape is authenticated by forensic investigation, it matters not one whit what the motive of the person who made it available was. If the voices on the tape are those of AK Singh and Chandra, it establishes very clearly that they were working to sabotage the investigation.

Just as the Niira Radia tapes established how deep the rot in the system went, the CNN-IBN expose lays bare the game-fixing that goes on at the prosecutorial level. The CBI should be looking to establish the authenticity of the tape - and then, if that is confirmed, to secure conviction in the case. Securing "justice" for AK Singh (particularly if he is guilty as charged) should be the least of its concerns.

But then, as this report in The Hindu notes, there is reason to believe that it is not just the prosecutor who is looking to torpedo the trial. "The leaked conversation," writes Shalini Singh, "leads the matter beyond the prosecutor and (the) accused." In her estimation, it involves "star prosecution witness AK Srivastav, who was otherwise liable to face a jail term, along with the former telecom minister, A Raja, the former DoT secretary, S Behura, and the former private secretary to Mr. Raja, RK Chandolia".

Srivastav served as DDG (Access Services) at the time the licences and spectrum were given away on the cheap, by changing the rules of the game. But, Shalini Singh observes, "it is clear from the taped conversation that Mr. Singh and Mr. Chandra believe that using Mr. Srivastav's testimony would help destroy the prosecution's own case in three stages, including one that relates to Unitech obtaining licences and spectrum in spite of being ineligible".

In other words, the dirty tricks department may still be at work, and although the expose of the collusion between prosecutor and accused may have come as a blow to the ongoing efforts to scuttle the probe, the scope for mischief lies at a more fundamental level.

by Venky Vembu

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