"Real Radia" tapes in Indian 2G scandal on the way

Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai has confirmed that around 100 tapes have been leaked to the Indian media in the 2G-Gate scandal.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal he said that the recordings of wiretapped calls between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and the country’s journalistic and political power brokers only contained “juicy elements” meant by the leakers to “titillate” the media.

The remaining 5,000-plus recordings contained the details that will actually assist investigators as they draw up formal charges against wrongdoers.

“The investigation part is much more, which has not yet come out,” said Mr. Pillai, the top bureaucrat in the Home Ministry, which oversees domestic security issues and approves wiretap requests by central government agencies. “The parts that have come out aren’t really connected to the investigation.”

Reports of the leak kicked off late last month. At the time Outlook Magazine and Open Magazine moved to expose the dark sides of  the “booming” India telecom market by publishing the audio tapes of telephone conversations between former telecommunication minister A Raja and Nira Radia, a lobbyist for industry tycoons Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani.

Raja was allegedly heard saying to Radia, “Go and tell Sunil Mittal (Bharti Airtel Chairman) that he has to work with Raja for five more years.”

This suggests Radia was lobbying for A Raja and other DMK ministers to get key portfolios, including telecoms, owned by industrialists like Bharti Airtel, Reliance and Tata Communications.
However, to understand the full extent of the issue, we have to look back to 2008 where the 2G spectrum licence allocation raised eyebrows with Raja’s decision to grant pan-India 2G licences at $336 million ( Rs 1,650 crore) was questioned for the first time.

The Finance Ministry reportedly had evidence proving the DoT  (Department of Telecommunications) compromised the exchequer’s revenue, by giving pan-India 2G licences at the old price of $375 million (Rs 1650 crore).

It implied that licences were awarded at one-fourth the market price, with a revenue loss of over $5 billion (Rs 25,000 crore) compared to the 2008 price.

In the interview Mr. Pillai said he gave the go-ahead to bug Ms. Radia’s phone to further a tax-evasion investigation. However he was shady with details – when he was asked how that probe is connected to the controversial allocation of 2G mobile phone spectrum in 2008, he would only say that the potentially illegal movement of funds in and out of India is being scrutinised closely.

Mr. Pillai said the leaking of the Radia tapes has kick started questions from other big-wigs now calling him to find out if they, too, are being tapped. However, the fears of widespread wire tapping are “much exaggerated” according to Mr Pillai, who has said strict guidelines are followed when it comes to such surveillance.

There are “only” 6,000 to 8,000 wiretaps happening at any point. Around five percent are for white collar investigations.