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Vodafone risking fraud charges by investors, warns legal expert

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New Delhi, Nov 12 (IANS) Vodafone Group’s financial statement on Tuesday only strengthens the perception that it has risked itself to being accused of playing fraud upon the investors and shareholders for lack of transparency and for neither paying license fee (LF) and spectrum usage charges (SUC) nor provisioning the actual liabilities in their books of accounts, legal expert Manoj Kumar has said.

Kumar, who is the Founder & Managing Partner of Hammurabi & Solomon Partners, said the statement by Vodafone relating to its operations in India seeks to blames a major portion of its losses of 1.9 billion euros for the period to losses of Voda Idea post an adverse judgment against the industry by the Supreme Court.

Under the terms of the merger scheme between Vodafone and Idea Cellular, Vodafone was to hold 45.1 per cent shares in the merged entity i.e. Voda Idea.

Kumar said therefore, the losses purportedly impacting the group balance sheet of Vodafone i.e. 1.9 billion euros reflects either a half of such losses incurred by Voda Idea or about two-thirds of losses incurred by Voda Idea if Vodafone’s tab is basis the inter-se shareholding proportion amongst promoters of Voda Idea, which is approximately 64:36, considering that the Aditya Birla Group holds about 26 per cent of equity in Voda Idea.

“The very curtains put up by the Vodafone Group by way recycling & diversion of funds to hide the LF & SUC liabilities from shareholders & stake-holders, has not allowed neither Vodafone Group nor its shareholders/stake-holders to see the elephant liability coming its way,” Kumar said.

“Question is, has Vodafone Group been transparent all along or is it being transparent even now?” he asked.

Kumar said during the period 2010-11 to 2016-17, Vodafone’s subsidiary VIL even paid Rs 291 crore in dividends to its shareholders and VIL, VML and Voda Idea collectively diverted Rs 19,694 crores (during 2010-11 to 2018-19) meant for payment to DoT towards LF and SUC charges or alternately meant for provisioning for the payments due to DoT and instead re-cycled and diverted the said amount of Rs 19,694 crore towards operations and expansions.

According to Kumar, Vodafone has been always aware of the obligations under the “Migration Package” under which its subsidiaries enjoyed the liberty to pay LF on the principle of “Pay as you Earn”.

Under this “revenue sharing” model enjoyed by Vodafone, it had the Indian Government as its partner or sharer of “gross revenues” payable as a percentage of Adjusted Gross Revenue “AGR”.

In order to arrive at the “Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR)”, only PSTN/PLMN related call charges (access charges) actually paid to other service providers within India and roaming revenues actually passed on to other service providers need to be deducted from the gross revenue of the company.

Initially, 15 per cent of AGR was fixed as license fee under “revenue sharing,” which was progressively reduced to 8 per cent in 2013.

Kumar said Vodafone, like other TSPs, steadily prospered and grew in India under this revenue sharing model, which is evident from the continuous rise in the gross revenue i.e. in the case of VIL from Rs 3,515 crore to Rs 43,327 crore and in the case of VML from Rs 2,489 crore to over Rs 40,000 crore. So, year on year, Vodafone earned handsomely but did not keep its date with the obligations to pay LF and SUC.



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