December 21, 2017 / 5:29 AM / a year ago

Indian court acquits all accused in 2G telecoms case

India's former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja gestures as he leaves a court after a hearing in New Delhi, India, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Indian court on Thursday acquitted a former telecoms minister, politicians and business executives of graft and money laundering charges in the grant of telecoms licenses due to lack of evidence in one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals.

The case relates to alleged below-market-price sale of lucrative telecoms permits bundled with airwaves in 2008, which a federal auditor said may have cost the government as much as $28 billion in lost revenue.

A special court convened by the federal investigator was called to give its verdict on the accused, including former telecoms minister A. Raja.

“The prosecution has miserably failed to prove its charge,” defense lawyer Vijay Aggarwal told reporters, citing the judge’s ruling.

Shares of companies affected by the case rose after the verdict, with Reliance Communications Ltd gaining as much as 13.3 percent, DB Realty jumping nearly 20 percent and SUN TV Networks Ltd rising as much as 6.8 percent.

The scandal dented the fortunes of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government, which oversaw the sale of the licenses at below-market prices, and triggered street protests.

It was one of the several scandals that emerged during Singh’s second term, hobbling policymaking and diverting the government’s attention away from pushing forward crucial economic reforms.

The uncertainty hurt business sentiment in Asia’s third-biggest economy, and led to questions about the government’s efforts to crack down on corruption.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ordered 122 licenses held by eight operators to be revoked, declaring the licenses illegal and the process “wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest”.

Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; additional reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Malini Menon and Nick Macfie

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