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Home > India > News > Report

Sentencing of Indian businessman won't affect N-deal

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | June 21, 2008 02:38 IST

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Indo-US Nuclear Tango

Although the non-proliferation lobby in the US and others, including some influential lawmakers who are vehemently opposed to the US-India nuclear deal, will inevitably seek to exploit the sentencing of an Indian businessman for supplying Indian government entities with controlled technology to question New Delhi's non-proliferation record, senior administration and diplomatic sources said this wouldn't fly, at least to the extent that it could torpedo the nuclear deal.

These sources acknowledged that the sentencing of Parthasarathy Sudarshan to 35 months in jail for his role in a conspiracy to illegally export controlled electronic components to Indian government entities such as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre and Bharat Dynamics Ltd -- appendages of the Indian Department of Space and the Ministry of Defence respectively -- at a time India was under sanctions following its May 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests would once again prompt the likes of the Arms Control Association and other non-proliferation groups and activists, not to mention Congressmen like Ed Markey and Howard Berman, to once again attempt to besmirch India's much touted impeccable non-proliferation track record.

But these sources told that even though Sudarshan's sentencing gives these opponents of the deal yet another opportunity to thrash India -- as they had done when Sudarshan was first arrested and a link in his conspiracy allegedly found to be an Indian embassy official from whom he took instructions and coordinated his purchases -- "it won't fly to the extent that it can have any major impact of the deal being consummated or not."

"I think what it more worrisome is whether the Indians can get their act together and get the 123 agreement back in time to get it approved by the Congress before the clock runs out," one senior administration source said.

"Of course, this is something for the critics of the deal to hammer the administration and India with, but that's the extent of it," the source added.

At the time of Sudarshan's arrest last year and his pleading guilty in March to the felony charge of conspiracy to violate the US Arms Export Control Act among several other export control regulations, the non-proliferation lobby jumped all over it and said the administration's argument that India's impeccable non-proliferation track record made it a perfect candidate for an exception of US laws to receive civilian nuclear technology and fuel was a misnomer.

They said that the conspiracy that Sudarshan was involved in and other cases in the past where individuals had attempted to ship or shipped restricted military technology for India's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, poked a gaping hole in the argument that India although not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty adhered scrupulously to non-proliferation laws.

Markey, co-chairman of the Congressional Task Force on non-proliferation, and Berman, now chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, made the Sudarshan case an example to thrash the administration's argument in their efforts to kill the deal and even referred to it in their Dear Colleague letters to fellow lawmakers and in the amendments they introduced during the debate to lend credence to their opposition to India being provided this exclusive exemption.

At the time, Berman when asked by in an exclusive interview as to why he brought up this case in letters to his colleague and even in a missive he initiated to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] and whether it was an attempt to imply that this kind of activity comprises the argument that India has a squeaky clean non-proliferation record, said, "We don't ignore facts to make an argument."

He asserted, "The fact is that one of the reasons why we voted for this agreement is because in the most fundamental sense, India has not been a proliferator. But there are some troublesome areas and I don't see what's wrong with calling attention to that. Everyone can do better than they do. We just wanted to point that out."

Congressional sources too acknowledged that if the nuclear deal makes it back to Congress anytime soon, "you can bet Markey, Berman and others who have problems with the deal, will bring this case up, but whether it has the weight to sink a positive vote, that a stretch."

"It will just be used to hammer the administration and India and to embarrass them to the extent possible and to argue that India is not that squeaky clean when it comes to non-proliferation," one source said.

Sudarshan, 47, CEO of Cirrus Electronics, with offices in Simpsonville, South Carolina, Singapore, and Bengaluru, was convicted of acquiring electrical components with applications in missile guidance and firing systems in the US and illegally exporting them to "government entities in India that participate in the development of ballistic missiles, space launch vehicles, and fighter jets."

Court papers said that "the US government has determined that Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre participates in India's space launch vehicle programme and that Bharat Dynamics Limited participates in India's development and production of ballistic missiles. As such, both VSSC and BDL are on the Department of Commerce's Entity List and exports of US-origin commodities to these entities are restricted and require prior authorisation in the form of a license from the Department of Commerce."

The documents said that "between 2002 and 2006, Sudarshan acquired electrical components with applications in missile guidance and firing systems in the United States for VSSC and BDL. In particular, in the case of at least two US vendors, Sudarshan and others at Cirrus provided the US companies with fraudulent certificates that claimed that the end-users of these electrical components were non-restricted entities in India, when, in fact, the items were for VSSC."

"There were no export licenses for any of the shipments to VSSC and BDL," the court papers said, and added, "To further conceal from the US government that goods were going to entities in India on the Department of Commerce Entity List, Sudarshan would route the products through its Singapore office and then send the packages to India."

The documents also said that besides supplying VSSC and BDL with the restricted components, "Sudarshan acquired microprocessors for the Tejas, a fighter jet under development in India. The microprocessors were necessary for the navigation and weapons system of the Tejas."

"Because the microprocessors are on the UN Munitions List, the state department must license any export of the products," it said. "On two occasions in 2004 and 2006, Cirrus caused the shipment of a total of 500 microprocessors to the Aeronautical Development Establishment, an enterprise within the Ministry of Defence of the Government of India responsible for the development of the Tejas. There were no licenses for these shipments."

US District Judge Ricardo M Urbina, in sentencing Sudarshan, who is a Singapore citizen, although he was resident in Simpsonville, also slapped him with a $60,000 fine, and said, "In an age where it only takes one series of mishaps set off nuclear destruction, everybody has to be especially vigilant."