New corruption allegations shake India government

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's Supreme Court ordered police on Thursday to probe 14 cases of alleged collusion between corporate executives and top bureaucrats in the latest corruption scandal to shake the government.

The cases came to light from tapped phone calls between former corporate lobbyist Niira Radia with unidentified business executives and government bureaucrats, the federal police agency told the court in a report.

Examination of "the telephonic conversations suggest corrupt means being adopted by private parties to extract gains", the court said.

The court said the conversations suggested "collusion between government officials and private enterprises" and ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe further.

"Prima facie, we have come to a conclusion there was a connivance between government officials and private parties. We direct the CBI to enquire into 14 matters raised by the CBI and to report back," the court said.

The tapes recorded by the CBI have a long history.

They first emerged as part of a massive political row over the 2007-2008 cut-rate sale of second generation (2G) mobile phone licences alleged by the national auditor to have cost the treasury billion of dollars in revenue losses in what became known as the "2G scam".

Former telecom minister A. Raja and a slew of corporate and government officials have been charged in the 2G case - one of a string of scandals that has buffeted the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, now facing elections by next May.

Then, two months ago, the Supreme Court ordered the CBI to look at the tapes again to see whether there were "instances of criminality" that had nothing to do with the 2G case.

Ms Radia had worked as a lobbyist for two of India's biggest industrialists: Mukesh Ambani, head of Reliance Industries, and Ratan Tata, the now retired chief of tea-to-steel conglomerate Tata Group.

Ms Radia's phone was tapped as part of tax probe after questions were raised about how she built a business empire in nine years.

The government recorded 180 days of Ms Radia's telephone conversations in 2008 and 2009 and put transcripts of 5,800 conversations in 50 sealed envelopes.

Leaked excerpts in 2010 created a storm and drew in prominent media and business figures who were recorded discussing political wheeler-dealing and favours. All those named have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

The tapes were recorded when Ms Radia headed Mumbai-based Vaishnavi Corporate Communications which she founded and later had to fold after the 2G scandal grew.

Ms Radia has been named as a prosecution witness in the 2G case by the CBI.