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Telecommunications scandal :

India PM vows punishment

INDIA: India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised Saturday that anyone found guilty in a 40-billion-dollar telecommunications scandal that has shaken the country will be punished.

"There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that if any wrong thing has been done by anybody, he or she will be brought to book," Singh said in a speech to a media conference in New Delhi.

It was Singh's first public statement on the firestorm ignited this week when India's chief auditing body declared that the botched sale of 2G telecom licences in 2008 at a fraction of their value had cost the country up to 40 billion dollars.

The scandal has ensnared Singh, whose ruling Congress party's popularity partly resides in his "Mr Clean" image.

He is accused of 16 months' inaction on allegations of wrongdoing by his telecommunications minister, which he has been asked to explain by the Supreme Court.

Last weekend the minister, A. Raja, whose ministry was raided by police last year, was persuaded to step down over the scandal, while the opposition has been blocking parliamentary business all week.

"We are ready to discuss all issues in parliament, we are not afraid of discussion," Singh said, adding that investigating agencies were probing the alleged corruption.

Singh was separately expected to file a sworn statement in India's Supreme Court on Saturday to "explain every attention received and action taken" on a petition filed seeking Raja's prosecution.

The court upped the pressure on Singh last Thursday by asking him to present an affadavit explaining his "alleged inaction and silence for 16 months".

The court said Singh had failed to reply to a request to approve the prosecution of Raja, a low-caste politician from a regional party that is in the coalition government headed by Singh's Congress. Senior ruling party politicians gave strong backing to the 78-year-old prime minister, whose cerebral style and reputation for probity normally puts him above the noisy quarrels and mud-slinging of Indian politics.

New Delhi, Sunday, AFP

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