//Reliance Infocomm & BSNL chief tech officers quizzed by CBI

Reliance Infocomm & BSNL chief tech officers quizzed by CBI

PTI, Sunday, February 12, 2006  12:41 IST

NEW DELHI: Turning the heat on telecom firms that re-route international calls as local ones, the CBI has quizzed Reliance Infocomm and BSNL’s chief technical officers in connection with the alleged masquerading of calls by the private telecom giant to avoid payment of a fee, which initial estimates suggest cost the exchequer Rs 50 crore.

CBI sources said Reliance Infocomm’s chief technical officer based in Chennai was grilled by the sleuths of Economic Offences Wing about the usage of a software to mask international calls as local ones.

His questioning comes close on the heels of the quizzing the company’s CEO in Chennai Som Sundaram, who was summoned to the investigating agency’s office and asked about the process of functioning of Reliance phones.

After registering the Preliminary Enquiry on September 15 last year, CBI had secured all files related to the case from DoT. It has so far estimated a loss of Rs 50 crore to the exchequer and the figure could go beyond it, they said.

According to CBI sources, any calls generated from foreign country used to land at three gateways in Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai from where the collected calls were "masked" with the help of the software and sent as local ones to the Public System Telephone Network (PSTN).

Reliance Infocomm’s chief technical officer belonged to the previous dispensation headed by Mukesh Ambani. The company has now been transferred to younger sibling Anil as part of a settlement of ownership issues in the family.

Besides Reliance executives, some of the officials of DoT were also summoned by the CBI to explore the possibility of their alleged connivance with the private sector conglomerate.

CBI, in its PE against unnammed officials of Reliance and DoT, had alleged that the telecom giant had manipulated Caller Line Identification (CLI) system for international calls and routed them as local calls.

The CBI, to which the case was referred to by Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), is also likely to question some top executives of the Reliance group, who were in-charge of the telcom business before division of Reliance group.

The Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), while imposing a penalty of Rs 150 crore on Reliance Infocomm for allegedly breaching the license conditions, had also said in its order that this breach has put the "security of the nation in jeopardy."

The alleged re-routing of calls were done with a view to avoid payment of a fee called Access Deficit Charge, which private telecom operators are supposed to pay telecom PSUs to offset their unremunerative services in rural areas.

Before the CVC handed over the case to CBI, it had already stumbled upon a nexus between some private telecom companies and DoT officials during its probe into illegal telephone exchanges that were unearthed in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.