India

Manmohan Singh: Supreme Court suspends summons in coal scandal

Manmohan Singh Image copyright AFP
Image caption Manmohan Singh's government ran India for a decade until last year

India's Supreme Court has suspended a summons issued to former PM Manmohan Singh and five others by a lower court over a coal mining scandal.

Mr Singh and the others deny charges of criminal conspiracy. They had appealed to the Supreme Court over the order to appear on 8 April.

In 2012, federal auditors said India had lost $33bn (£20bn) because coalfield rights were sold off cheaply.

Mr Singh has said he was innocent and "open for legal scrutiny".

Those accused alongside Mr Singh include a former bureaucrat and a leading businessman.

Known as one of India's cleanest politicians, the former prime minister has not been charged with any crime but is being investigated for criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust and corruption-related offences.

If found guilty, Mr Singh, 82, could be sentenced to jail for life, although correspondents say that is not likely.

"There was no criminal intent - it [the allotment of coal licences] was an administrative decision and not an illegality," Mr Singh's lawyer and former minister Kapil Sibal said on Wednesday.

Last September, India's Supreme Court cancelled almost all of the more than 200 coal mining licences awarded by the government since 1993, saying they were illegal. Mr Singh's Congress party was in charge when most licences were allocated.

The ruling BJP government has begun a process of re-auctioning the coal licences and says it hopes to recover the true value of the coal reserves.

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