Former Indian PM Singh faces charges in coal scandal

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEW DELHI (AP) — A special Indian court on Wednesday summoned former prime minister Manmohan Singh, accusing him of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust for his alleged role in a multibillion dollar scandal over the sale of coal fields.

The court's move comes 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 summoned 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.