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Wednesday, March 11, 2015, 14:47

Coal scam: Indian ex-PM Singh charged, summonsed

By Associated Press
Coal scam: Indian ex-PM Singh charged, summonsed
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attends the inauguration ceremony of the new T2 terminal of the Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai on Jan 10, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/ PUNIT PARANJPE)

NEW DELHI - A special court on Wednesday charged former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh with corruption and criminal conspiracy for his alleged role in a multibillion dollar scandal over the sale of coal fields.

The charges, which also include breach of trust, come despite the Central Bureau of Investigation finding no prosecutable evidence against Singh or others embroiled in the case.

Judges ordered Singh and five others to appear in court on April 8.

Singh as prime minister of the former Congress-led government had direct charge of the coal ministry when some of the coal field allocations to private companies were made.

He was questioned by the CBI in January about the allocation of a coal field in Odisha state in 2005 to Hindalco Industries.

Reacting to the summons, Singh said he was "open for legal scrutiny."

"I am sure that the truth will prevail and I will get a chance to put forward my case with all the facts," he said in a statement.

India's Supreme Court last year scrapped all 218 allocations of coal reserves from 1993 to 2010 saying they were carried out under procedures that were arbitrary and lacked fairness and transparency. Singh's Congress party-led government was accused by critics of costing India's treasury billions of dollars.

The scandal, along with several other high-profile cases of alleged graft, was a key reason for the Congress party's huge loss in last year's elections to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi's government has begun a process of re-auctioning the coal blocks and hopes to recoup the true value of the coal reserves.

Senior BJP leader and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar denied that there was any element of vindictiveness in pursuing the case.

"The courts do not operate under the BJP. They operate independently," Javadekar told reporters. "Manmohan Singh was the prime minister. He was in office. He should have exercised his diligence," he said.

Congress Party spokesman Manish Tewari said Singh was "a person of utmost integrity and probity."

The court has also summonsed a former coal secretary and the multi-billionaire head of Hindalco Industries, Kumar Mangalam Birla, to appear on April 8.

If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced for a maximum of life imprisonment.

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