India removes telecom case prosecutor over leaked tape

Indian police have removed a key prosecutor in the country's biggest corruption trial after he was allegedly heard on a leaked tape discussing courtroom strategy with the accused.

India's CNN-IBN news channel aired a recorded conversation which it said were the voices of public prosecutor A.K. Singh and Sanjay Chandra, one of the accused in the case relating to the sale of telecom licences in 2008.

According to the transcript, the prosecutor told Chandra, who heads property giant Unitech which was among the firms to buy a licence, that he was "acting only to save you".

Unitech's shares fell by more than 20 percent on Tuesday. The company denied it was Chandra's voice on the recording, but Singh was immediately replaced on the prosecution case hearing the trial which started in 2011.

"While these allegations are being probed... the said prosecutor has already been removed from the 2G case trial's prosecution team," the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which named the prosecutor, said in a statement late Monday.

"2G" refers to the second-generation of telecom networks which continue to be used alongside more recent technology.

Chandra, along with former telecom minister A. Raja and a string of other government officials and corporate executives, have been charged with conspiracy, forgery and cheating over the 2008 sale of telecom licences.

Raja is accused of favouring certain firms and twisting the selection criteria in exchange for bribes in a scandal that the national auditor estimated cost the treasury up to 176.64 billion rupees ($32 billion).

Unitech, which created a telecoms division before the spectrum sale, made a large profit by selling a stake in this unit to its former joint venture partner, Norwegian telecom group Telenor.

The two companies ended their association last October.

According to the transcript released by CNN-IBN, the prosecutor told Chandra that "there is just one way of saving yourself... I will hand over a judgement to you that will benefit you the most."

Unitech said there was no truth in the allegations.

"He (Chandra) wishes to make it absolutely clear that he has never met the prosecutor in the 2G case outside the court or had any phone conversation with him," Unitech said in its statement.

There was no immediate comment available from the prosecutor.

The 2G corruption allegations were among a series of graft scandals that have damaged the second term of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as India struggles with sliding economic growth.

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