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India’s Anti-Graft Chief Under Pressure Over Telecoms Role

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- India’s Supreme Court ordered the country’s corruption watchdog chief to respond to arguments that his former position as the top telecommunications bureaucrat makes him unfit to oversee a probe into the 2008 sale of wireless airwaves.

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia also issued a notice to the government on public interest litigation challenging the appointment of P.J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner. Thomas, 59, has separately been named in court documents relating to the import of palmolein when he was food secretary in southern Kerala state.

Petitions filed with the apex court contend that Thomas cannot be considered as having “impeccable integrity” and faces a “conflict of interest” over the spectrum investigation as he was secretary in the department of telecommunications from October 2009 until September.

“I am morally clear,” Thomas told reporters last week in New Delhi, adding that in Kerala he had implemented a decision taken by the state government. “I am very impartial and take judicious decisions as per the law on every matter that comes to me,” he said.

Former Telecommunications Minister Andimuthu Raja, resigned two days before the country’s chief auditor said in a Nov. 16 report to parliament that the sale of wireless telephony licenses at below-market rates may have lowered government revenues by 1.4 trillion rupees ($31 billion).

India’s parliament has been stalled for about three weeks as opposition members demand a cross-party probe into the spectrum allocation. While the Supreme Court is hearing public interest petitions on alleged irregularities in the sale of airwaves, the Central Bureau of Investigation is also investigating the matter.

The judges today set Jan. 27 for the next hearing of the public interest petitions.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net; P.S. Patnaik in New Delhi at ppatnaik2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hari Govind at hgovind@bloomberg.net

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