SingTel back Bharti’s Mittal in Indian spectrum case

Bharti Airtel shareholder SingTel has lent its support to the embattled Sunil Mittal, the Indian operator’s chairman, who faces charges over his conduct during a spectrum auction in 2002.

In a statement on its website, the Singaporean operator, said it has “full faith in Bharti Airtel’s corporate governance standards under the leadership of Mr Mittal”.

Bharti Airtel shareholder SingTel has lent its support to the embattled Sunil Mittal, the Indian operator’s chairman, who faces charges over his conduct during a spectrum auction in 2002.

In a statement on its website, the Singaporean operator, said it has “full faith in Bharti Airtel’s corporate governance standards under the leadership of Mr Mittal”.

“We trust that due legal process in India will prevail and are confident that Bharti Airtel [New Delhi, India] and Mr Mittal will be vindicated before the courts,” said SingTel (Singapore), which owns about a third of Bharti Airtel.

Mittal is due to appear on 11 April before a special court set up to investigate irregularities in the auction of telecoms spectrum estimated to have lowered government takings by more than INR8 billion ($147 million).

Bharti Airtel could be ordered to pay hefty fines if found guilty of wrongdoing, while Mittal faces a possible jail sentence.

In its own statement on the matter, Bharti Airtel denies the allegations and says spectrum was awarded according to the government policies of the day.

“The government has on several occasions stated on the floor of the parliament, even as recently as 7 December 2012, that the additional spectrum granted to all operators and the related spectrum usage charges are as per the policy,” said the operator. “The Department of Telecommunications has also filed affidavits before the courts confirming the same.”

The case marks the latest clash between Indian authorities and Bharti Airtel, which stands accused along with Vodafone India (Mumbai, India) and Idea Cellular (Mumbai, India) of breaching the terms of 3G licenses awarded in 2010.

Earlier this month, the operator was ordered to stop providing 3G services in seven regions where it does not have permits, and to pay a fine of INR3.5 billion.

The companies claim that in advance of the 3G auction India’s regulator authorized the formation of roaming agreements – allowing an operator to provide services in areas where it lacks licenses – but authorities have been insisting such pacts are illegal.