Anil Ambani, the Indian billionaire whose telecoms group is under scrutiny as part of an acrimonious spectrum licensing probe, has met anti-corruption investigators in the latest twist in a scandal that is unsettling investors.
A spokesman for the majority owner of Reliance Communications, India’s second-biggest telecoms group by subscribers, said Mr Ambani attended the police’s Central Bureau of Investigation headquarters in New Delhi on Wednesday “to clarify ongoing issues, relating to telecom matters for the years 2001 to 2010”.
The agency, which has summoned executives from several companies in the sector as part of its investigations, issued no summons to Mr Ambani, the spokesman said.
The CBI could not be reached for comment, but his meeting with its investigators was the first by any of the tycoons who dominate the scandal-prone sector in connection with the inquiry.
The probe concerns the allocation of scores of second generation (2G) mobile network licences in 2008 at what the national auditor subsequently described as “throwaway prices”. The auditor said the undervaluation cost the exchequer up to $39bn in lost revenue, a figure disputed by the government.
The auditor claimed that RCom had violated licensing regulations in 2008 by holding a larger-than-permitted stake in Swan Telecom, a smaller operator that was also applying for a licence.
RCom has denied any wrongdoing, but Mr Ambani’s meeting with investigators comes amid a trying few days for the group in his Bollywood-to-healthcare conglomerate.
On Sunday, Mr Ambani’s holding group said the CBI had questioned some of its officials as part of the investigation.
On Monday, some analysts were unnerved by a 57 per cent fall in year-on-year net profits in the final three months of last year, accompanied by a jump in net debt that followed the collapse of a potential deal to deleverage RCom through a sale of its tower assets.
RCom shares – whose 30 per cent decline this year has left them among the market’s worst performers – dipped sharply as news of Mr Ambani’s meeting surfaced, ending down 1.72 per cent at Rs99.70 on a day the benchmark Sensex index rose fractionally.
The market has fallen by nearly 12 per cent since mid-November, when Andimuthu Raja resigned as telecoms minister over allegations that he allocated mobile licences irregularly.
The fallout from the scandals has reached the office of Manmohan Singh , prime minister, who on Wednesday sought to counter suggestions that he had been slow to act by saying the government “is dead serious about bringing to book all the wrongdoers”.
On Tuesday Sunil Bharti Mittal, head of India’s biggest telecoms group, urged industry rivals who have been exchanging allegations of impropriety to “shut their mouths”.
“It is surely hurting, and the future of investments is in question,” said Mr Mittal, whose own group, Bharti Airtel, was among those accused by RCom of having left the exchequer $22bn out of pocket.
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