NEW DELHI: Mounting attack on Congress, the government today said the previous UPA government had “done everything” to help AgustaWestland bag the chopper deal and asserted that the main beneficiaries of the kickbacks will be tracked so that “maybe we can do” what “we could not do in Bofors”.
In a hard-hitting speech in the Lok Sabha, Defense Minister Manohar 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”.
He said while the decision on the contract was taken in 2010, Tyagi had retired in 2007 and “might have got just a ‘chiller’ (loose change)”.
Amid a walkout by Congress which was pressing for a Supreme Court-monitored probe, he said CBI is “very seriously” investigating the case.
“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 while replying to a debate on the Calling Attention Motion during which he continuously targeted the Congress but deliberately refrained from naming anybody.
He said the UPA government had “done everything” to help AgustaWestland bag the Rs 3600 crore deal for purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters and that its action against the company following the disclosure of corruption was not pro-active but “forced by circumstances”.
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 judgment, Parrikar said with this, the criminal conspiracy has been established and “we will get the documents very fast”.
Alleging that the Congress party had close links with Christian Michel, the middleman in the deal, he said the contract was given to a company which had not even participated in the tendering process.
Finding loopholes in the deal, the Defense Minister said the tender was submitted by Italy-based AgustaWestland but the contract was given to the UK-based Agusta Westland International Ltd (AWIL), which was not Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
“I am shocked, how could you accept order from a company who has not given tender? They 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 whitewash,” he said taking a dig at the Congress.
As Congress 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,” the Defense Minister said, taking a swipe at Congress.
Parrikar, who was critics by opposition members for reading from a statement during a debate over the issue in the Rajya Sabha, mostly spoke extempore and narrated the sequence of events related to the contract and its subsequent cancellation.
While a criminal case was registered in Italy in November 2011 over alleged exchange of bribe in the deal, the UPA government continued with the acquisition of choppers and three of them were delivered, he said.
Only after Finmeccanica, parent firm of AgustaWestland, officials were arrested in 2013, that the then Defense Minister A K Antony asked the CBI to probe the matter, he said.
Before then the government had not even written to the company and instead taken up the matter with the embassy, Parrikar said, likening it to “setting up a committee when you do not want to do anything”.
“Its (UPA) action was compulsorily forced by the arrest of Finmeccanica official… It did not take any pro-action measure,” he said.
Attacking Congress, Parrikar said Antony put on hold the deal only on May 12, 2014, the last day of the Lok Sabha elections, and wondered if it was driven by the results of exit polls, which had predicted a big loss for the UPA.
Finding loopholes in the deal, the Defense Minister said the tender for the contract was submitted by Italy-based AgustnaWestland but given to the UK-based Agusta Westland International Ltd (AWIL), which was not Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
“I have never seen that tender was submitted by one company and given to some other company… It has many legal implications,” he told the Lok Sabha.
While the previous NDA government, which had started the process for acquiring VVIP choppers, broadened Services Qualitative Requirements (SQR) to get more companies in the tender process, the UPA made it “restrictive” to benefit AgustaWestland, Parrikar alleged.
The benchmark price was also increased by many times that benefitted the company, the Defense Minister said, adding that it should not have been done as it was the only vendor.
Antony, he said, had objected to the firm’s request for doing the field trial outside but he was later “convinced” to withdraw them.
It was done against the clause of tender, he asserted.–PTI