After the Niira Radia tapes, phone-tapping was back in the news with allegations of Essar Communications, owned by the Ruias, illegally monitoring phones of prominent politicians, corporate bigwigs – including Reliance group chairman Mukesh Ambani – and bankers between 2001 and 2006.
The allegations are contained in a petition submitted by Delhi-based lawyer Suren Uppal to the PMO, seeking a probe. Uppal claimed the chats revealed Reliance’s efforts to influence BSNL’s tariff plans and lobbying for late Pramod Mahajan’s continuance in a particular portfolio. Essar denied the allegations.
Uppal’s story totally false & baseless: Essar
Uppal’s petition is based on information, including transcripts, provided by former Essar employee Basit Khan (misspelt by Uppal as Albasit) who claimed to have access to the recordings. Khan, by Uppal’s own admission, is now missing after having initially contacted him. It is understood that the recordings are in Khan’s possession. Khan met Uppal in February and dropped out of contact from April 24, according to the lawyer.
Essar denied the allegations. A statement said Uppal had concocted a completely false and baseless story to make extortionist demands and was looking to defame the group since his demands were not met. “Essar has never itself conducted or authorised any person, including Mr Basit Khan, to conduct any phone surveillance,” it said.
Among those whose phones were allegedly tapped using “cell to cell” interception were RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani and his wife Tina, ADAG chairman Anil Ambani and RIL top executives, late BJP leader and then minister in the Vajpayee government Pramod Mahajan, Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh and several top bankers from SBI, IDBI and ICICI.
The petition’s claim that the recordings revealed Essar trying to influence decisions of banks dealing with the company were denied by the firm’s spokespersons. Executives claimed the company referred to in the petition, BPL Mobile, was not owned by Essar at the time. Essar acquired it in 2006 and so it had no access to the exchange in the time period under consideration.While the petition and its claim of phones of highprofile businessmen being tapped heated political circles in Delhi, the government did not seem inclined to take any action.
Questions about the existence of the tapes or recordings have not been answered, sources said, while Khan, the original whistleblower, seems to have distanced himself from Uppal’s claims.