Business, Economics and Jobs

Judge accuses Indian minister of taking bribes in mining scandal

A top Indian minister is accused of taking bribes from companies mining illegally in a huge scandal that may have cost the country $3.6 million in lost revenue.

announced a national inquiry last year into widespread allegations of illegal mining and corruption in the industry.

A judge has accused politicians in Karnataka, including chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, of allowing from 2006 to 2010 illicit mining of iron ore, much of which is thought to have been shipped to China, AFP reports.

Yeddyurappa - who heads the main federal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s only administration in southern India - is named along with more than 100 companies and 600 officials in a 25,000-page investigation of mining operations, Bloomberg reports.

Some 160.8 billion rupees ($3.6 billion) ‘‘has been lost to the exchequer between 2006 and 2010 due to the illegalities and irregularities linked to the grant of licenses and the export of iron ore,’’ Judge Santosh Hegde said in state capital Bangalore, AFP reports.

Only this week, Yeddyurappa denied involvement in illegal mining, saying instead that he should be given the Nobel Prize for fighting the practice and wouldn’t resign.

However, Santosh Hegde, the anti-corruption ombudsman in Karnataka, told a televised press conference on Wednesday: ‘‘There was large-scale involvement of officials, powerful people, administrators as well as people working in the government.

‘‘The scale of illegal mining was rampant.’’

BJP spokesmen Dhananjay Kumar in Bangalore and Prakash Javadekar in New Delhi were not immediately available for comment.

Hedge said: ‘‘I have recommended in the voluminous report the prosecution of state chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa as a public servant under the Prevention Corruption Act, 1961 for his direct involvement in the mining scam as the mining department comes under him.’’

The report also said that the chief minister’s family members, including one who is a member of the national parliament for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had benefited from the mining fraud, AFP reports.

The report found massive illegalities committed by four members of the state cabinet including the revenue and infrastructure ministers, former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, a national Congress parliamentarian and another BJP lawmaker, it says.

Bloomberg reports:
‘‘He said a mining company made a 100 million rupee donation to a trust controlled by Yeddyurappa in order to gain favors and in a separate deal another mining company paid more than 10 times the market value for a property owned by the chief minister’s family.
Hegde said his investigators reviewed more than 400,000 records kept by the Karnataka government and companies. His team faced physical and verbal harassment from politicians, mining officials and lobby groups, he said.’’

Karnataka, the country’s second largest iron-ore producing region, has been plagued by allegations that companies have been mining illegally for the last decade.

Companies are accused of extracting the minerals and selling it without a license depriving the state of taxes.

Hedge said his report has been sent to Karnataka’s governor and India’s Supreme Court for further action to be taken against named officials.