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Rediff.com  » News » Government vows to do in Agusta what it could not do in Bofors

Government vows to do in Agusta what it could not do in Bofors

May 06, 2016 22:16 IST

Confrontation over VVIP chopper deal escalated on Friday with the government vowing to track down the main beneficiaries of the kickbacks so that "we can do" what "we could not do in Bofors" even as Congress said it is ready to face a probe that is monitored by the Supreme Court.

The government and the Congress clashed in the Lok Sabha after which the main opposition party staged a walkout led by Sonia Gandhi even as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was responding to a Calling Attention Motion on the scam-tainted AgustaWestland deal.

The two sides traded charges and sought to put the onus on each other for controversial decisions regarding the Rs 3600 crore deal for 12 VVIP helicopters in which about Rs 360 crore are alleged to have been paid as kickbacks.

The previous United Progressive Alliance government had "done everything" to help AgustaWestland bag the chopper deal, Parrikar said and asserted that the main beneficiaries of the kickbacks will be tracked as the CBI is "very seriously" probing the case.

In a hard-hitting speech, Parrikar said the "entire corruption" in the deal took place during the UPA tenure but former Air chief S P Tyagi and Gautam Khaitan are "small people" who "simply washed their hands in a flowing ganga (of corruption)" and that the government will "find out where the river was going".

Suggesting that some people higher up in the UPA dispensation might have been major beneficiaries of the kickbacks, he said the decision on the contract was taken in 2010 while Tyagi had retired in 2007 and "might have got just a 'chiller' (loose change)" or 'prasad'.

"Who gave order in 2010?... How much that person has got we have to find that out.... He (Tyagi) was not there then," the defence minister said.

"I hope members are satisfied and members will support government in finding the truth. The truth may lead to many unwanted realism. What we could not do in Bofors, may be we will do it in AgustaWestland," Parrikar said but deliberately refrained from naming anybody.

As Congress members created uproar and tried to disrupt his speech, he remarked, "Why are you (Congress) concerned? I have not named anybody. You seem to know where the ganga was going."

Countering the attack, Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said, "Do not level baseless allegations. Answer the questions which we are raising. Supreme Court monitored investigation should happen and its reports should be placed in the House every three months."

Stoutly defending Sonia Gandhi, he described her as a 'sherni' (lioness) and said nowhere was her name mentioned.

"Whenever the name of Sonia Gandhi comes, they start feeling irritated and they are afraid of her because she is a 'lioness'. That is why they (Bharatiya Janata Party) are afraid of her," he said.

Scindia said it was the habit of BJP to level wrong and baseless allegations and create an illusion through that.

"But we too have taken an oath that we will break that 'mayajaal' (illusion) and place the facts in front of the country and this House," Scindia said.

The reality is that this deal was started during the National Democratic Alliance regime in 1999 and the issue they are talking about bringing down the height of the helicopter from 6000 to 4500 metres, it was done by NDA government in 2003 and not the UPA, he said.

In December 2003, a letter was written from the Prime Minister's Office to change the norms and make it 4500 metres, Scindia said.

In April 2012, it was in fact the UPA government which ordered CBI to investigate the matter, Scindia said, adding that the contract was cancelled on February 15, 2013 and a notice was served on AugustaWestland and on January 1, 2014, the UPA government cancelled that contract.

"...24 months have passed of your government, what have you done in 720 days of your government? Have you brought in a single penny? Have you even identified a single person who has indulged in corruption," he asked.

"In March 2013, we in the House had proposed to form a JPC (joint parliamentary committee). Why did the NDA oppose that proposal? People of this country should ask why you opposed that proposal in 2013," the Congress leader said.

He said the banning and blacklisting of companies too was started by the UPA government. The then Defence Minister had stated that no deal would happen with AgustaWestland, he said, adding it was UPA government which had recovered Rs 2,063 crore from the company.

Parrikar said the UPA government's action against the company following the disclosure of corruption was not pro-active but "forced by circumstances".

Noting that the scam had surfaced in 2012, he said nothing was done by the then UPA government till January 2014.

Describing the then Defence Minister A K Antony as "bechara" (helpless), Parrikar contended that his "hands were tied" and he "feared that his sainthood would be disrobed".

He said Antony acted only after a top official of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, was arrested in Italy in connection with bribery in the deal.

Soon after the arrest, Antony gave the files to CBI in 2-3 hours, he said, adding "He (Antony) wanted to protect his image....Whether he knew or didn't know (of the bribe), I don't know."

Responding to Congress contention that the Italian judge had said that there was no evidence against Sonia Gandhi, Parrikar said it was half-truth as the judge had said that it was for India to investigate and for its investigating agencies to "prove the guilt of people who are suspected".

He asserted that the government will recover damages to the tune of 398 million euros as well as the "bribe".

Referring to the Italian court's recent judgement, Parrikar said with this, the criminal conspiracy has been established and "we will get the documents very fast".

Responding to Congress contention that the Italian judge had said that there was no evidence against Sonia Gandhi, Parrikar said it was half-truth as the judge had said that it was for India to investigate and for its investigating agencies to "prove the guilt of people who are suspected".

Suspecting a conspiracy to eliminate evidence in the chopper deal, Parrikar referred to a "mysterious" fire incident on July 3, 2014 in the Air Force headquarters here and said he would be asking the CBI to probe it.

He said all files were burnt in that fire but luckily three files related to the AgustaWestland deal were saved as those had been kept by an official in his locked drawer.

"If it was in somebody's mind to set it on fire, we think that failed as the official who was there because the Agusta issue was sensitive. He had locked the files in his drawer. So three files were saved and the three files related to AW-101 helicopters," the Defence Minister said.

Alleging that Congress had close links with middleman Christian Michel, Parrikar said the contract was given to a firm which had not even participated in the tendering process.

The tender was submitted by Italy-based AgustaWestland but the contract was given to the UK-based Agusta Westland International Ltd, which was not Original Equipment Manufacturer, he said, finding loopholes.

"I am shocked, how could you accept order from a company who has not given tender? They (Congress) lost sense of proportion. They thought they will be in power for ever. The smell and sight of Euro was so attractive, so intoxicating that they forgot everything. They should take consultation from Michel on how to cover up and how to do white wash," he said taking a dig at the opposition party.

On the initials 'AP' that figured in the documents in the Italian court judgement, Scindia said there are so many people who could have this abbreviation.

"We have the Gujarat Chief Minister whose initials are also AP...on such things they are labelling the allegations," the Congress leader said targeting the ruling side.

Attacking the Modi government, Scindia said "you have not been able to get the responses from those countries in two years' time ...It was our Defence Minister who stated that corruption is there in the deal and we will investigate that."

Despite being blacklisted, the NDA government permitted the company to send RFI (request for information) some contracts like in the Naval Utility helicopters.

"Why in the FIPB meeting on October 8, 2015, permission was given to AgustaWestland which was a blacklisted company? Answer this ... why Finmeccanica was invited to participate in a Make in India programme," he asked.

"Your (BJP) party president said that this is a bogus company and you invited a bogus company in Make in India. They have to give the answers to this," the Congress member said.

"Today we have put our balance sheet in front of you. Show us your balance sheet of two years. Tell the country that in two years what you have done," he said.

With regard to this, the Defence Minister said the firm had only put on website its Request for Information (RFI) which anybody can do in a digital world.

"Any person who wants can put his own information there. Now it is on open interent and if anyone wants to put information, whether it is (Congress leader) Jyotiraditya Scindia, or Christian Michel or Agusta Westland, we cannot stop him," he said.

Taking a dig at Congress, he said they seemed to know every action of AgustaWestland. He said he was not aware that the firm had uploaded something on the website and he looked for it only after Congress raised the issue. 

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