CBI trying to influence witnesses illegally, claim 2G accused

The special CBI court trying the 2G spectrum allocation case today issued notice to Central Bureau of Investigation seeking its reply on a petition which alleges that the investigating agency has sought to influence witnesses by calling them ''unofficially'' to its office and trying to browbeat them.

The application was primarily moved by Vinod Goenka, a former director with Swan Telecom, who said the CBI should be asked to "refrain from interfering" with witnesses in "a suspicious manner" before they depose in court. Swan is accused of paying a Rs214-crore kickback to former telecom minister A Raja (also on trial) in exchange for cheap and out-of-turn spectrum allocation. The CBI suspects Swan of being a front company set up by Anil Ambani's Reliance Communications to bag extra spectrum.

One report says that the petition, filed by advocate Majid Memon, was joined by all the 14 persons on trial in the case, including Raja. The court sought the CBI's response by 23 November.

The petitioners based their appeal on the deposition of Reliance ADAG group president A N Sethuraman. Memon alleged that the CBI suspiciously and without authorisation invited Sethuraman, a prosecution witness, to its offices two days before trial was to begin. Such a practice is not lawful, he submitted, calling for restraint from the CBI.

The counsel also sought the court's direction to mobile service providers to preserve call detail records of the mobile number used by Sethuraman and the number from which he was called by a CBI officer to come to the agency's office 9 November.

The Reliance Group official had told the court on 16 November that he was called two days before the trial was to begin. It was then for the first time that CBI showed him a copy of what was attributed as his statement, he said.