Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal asks top brass to keep faith

 Bharti Airtel founder and Chairman Sunil Mittal, who was last week summoned by a court to face criminal charges in an airwaves allocation case, has said the company has always maintained the highest standards of corporate governance and urged his senior managers to hold their heads high, even as he acknowledged that he and the telco are dealing with a difficult situation.

"Let me assure you that we have done nothing wrong... Nonetheless, we have to deal with this difficult situation. Over the next few days, we will prepare our legal position and I believe we have a strong case," Mittal said in an email to the company's top 60 managers on Saturday. The email, which has been viewed by ET, is Mittal's first address to a wider audience after he was summoned by the court as an accused. It acquaints the company's senior managers with facts of the case concerning events that happened a decade ago, and seeks to keep up their morale. "Each one of you must hold your head high for we have always done what is ethical and right, and will continue to do so," he wrote.

Bharti AirtelBSE -0.88 % chairman quoted the Bhagwad Gita: "No one who does good work will ever come to a bad end, either here or in the world to come."

Mittal appealed to his senior executives to keep giving their best and continue winning in the marketplace. "For me, one of our biggest achievements at Bharti Airtel has been our ability to build a world-class institution where we have insulated the operations from being distracted by sometimes very vicious attacks from our business rivals," he said.

Last week, the
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court, which is hearing all matters relating to alleged irregularities in the spectrum allocation process dating back to 2002, named the Bharti Airtel founder, Essar Group Vice-Chairman Ravi Ruia and former Hutchison Max (now Vodafone) managing director Asim Ghosh as accused in one of the cases and ordered them to appear in court on April 11, the next hearing of the case. CBI had filed criminal charges in December against Bharti and Vodafone, as well as government officials, for tweaking rules to allot additional spectrum over the prescribed limit in 2002 under a lower revenue share regime, which led to an alleged loss of .`846.4 crore to the exchequer.

While CBI had not named any company executives nor levied any charges against them when it filed its charge sheet, Judge OP Saini said the three executives 'used to chair board meetings' and controlled their respective companies' affairs and added that there was 'enough material on the record to proceed against' them. This case is different from the alleged multi-billion-dollar 2G spectrum scam, where former telecom minister A Raja and 16 others accused, including lawmaker Kanimozhi and top executives of three telecom companies, are currently standing trial. Mittal, in the email, said the company was ready to fight the case in the courts. "I have complete faith in the judicial process of the country and have no doubt that our stand will be vindicated," he wrote.

He thanked his managers for their support and concern. "The biggest strength that I draw is from the fact that we have attracted the best talent represented in each one of you who, coming from distinguished backgrounds, have made Bharti Airtel into a global telecom leader... How can you support me? My answer is by continuing to get better at what we do," he said. The Bharti Group chairman's internal communication reiterates the company's position that CBI had not found any evidence of conspiracy against any individual, and the government had on several occasions stated in Parliament that additional spectrum granted to all operators and related spectrum usage charges were as per policy.

According to Bharti, the company was eligible for additional airwaves in February 2002, but was given these frequencies after a five-month delay, despite 'the fact that the spectrum was available and the company was fully entitled to it'.

The company's position is that the second part of the spectrum was given in December 2003 during the tenure of then communications minister
Arun Shourie, against whom there are no allegations of wrongdoing. It also points out spectrum continued to be allocated under this policy until April 2010 under three separate ministers of telecom and six secretaries in the telecom department.