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Former PM Manmohan Singh charged with corruption in coal scandal that cost India billions

NEW DELHI – A special court on Wednesday charged former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh with corruption and criminal conspiracy for his alleged role in a multibillion dollar scandal over the sale of coal fields.

The charges, which also include breach of trust, come 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. There was no immediate statement from Singh, who has previously said there was no wrongdoing on his part.

Singh as prime minister had direct charge of the coal ministry when some of the coal field allocations to private companies were made.

Singh was questioned by the CBI in January in connection with the allocation of a coal field in Odisha state in 2005 to Hindalco Industries.

The court has also summoned a former coal secretary and the multi-billionaire head of Hindalco Industries, Kumarmangalam Birla.

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 of costing India’s treasury hundreds of billions of dollars by selling or allocating more than 200 coal blocks between 1993 and 2010 without competitive bidding.

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.

If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced for a maximum of life imprisonment.