Govt. officials accused of mobile corruption scam

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Govt. officials accused of mobile corruption scam
Mumbai: Indian government officials have been accused of orchestrating a 600 billion scam after investigators found that mobile phone licenses had been granted in 2007 on a 'first-come, first-served basis' to 'friendly companies' at incredibly low prices set in 2001.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which also raided the offices of ten telecom companies, said in a criminal filing that officials at the Department of Telecommunications had sold licenses "at a nominal price by rejecting rival offers without any valid reason." India's mobile industry has boomed in recent years to become the fastest-growing in the world, rendering asset prices set at the beginning of the decade ridiculously low, according to opponents of Andimuthu Raja, the Communications and IT Minister, whose department oversaw the license allocation.

Raja, whose Department was raided last week by the CBI, has denied any wrong doing. The accusations come at a sensitive time for Indian officials, given that public faith in it has been battered by a series of recent corruption charges, reports Timesonline.

"Corruption in India is a low-risk, high-reward pursuit," said N. Vittal, a Former Head of the Central Vigilance Commission, a government body responsible for tackling bribery. According to him, in many sectors, government policy is skewed through corrupt means to keep out genuine competition and also the system of punishment is lamentably weak.

Investigators are also inquiring into allegations that American businesses bribed officials in several Indian Government departments, including the Armed Forces, to illegally secure contracts. Defence Minister A. K. Antony said last week that the Indian Navy was investigating claims that its officials had taken illegal payments from an American supplier over several years.

The Central Insecticides Board is also under scrutiny. Its officials are alleged to have taken bribes from Dow Chemical, the American group. DE-Nocil Crop Protection, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, is alleged to have made improper payments of about $200,000 to Indian officials. This includes $39,700 paid to employees in the Central Insecticides Board to speed up the registration of three of the company's products.

In another case, officials from Indian Railways are accused of taking bribes from Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation (Wabtec), the New York-listed transport equipment and services group.

The allegations involving Dow Chemical and Wabtec became subject to investigation in India only after a letter written by Meera Shankar, India's Ambassador to Washington, to the office of Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minster, was made public.

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