BJP attacks Antony over Augusta deal; Congress hits back

New Delhi, April 26 (IANS) The BJP on Tuesday asked former defence minister A.K. Antony to clarify if any Congress leader was involved in accepting bribe in the $750 million AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal, but Antony noted that it was his government that had cancelled the deal and ordered a probe.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Antony had confirmed corruption in the deal.

“If he (Antony) said clearly that bribe has been given, he should tell if any Congress leader is involved,” Prasad said.

“Bribe-givers have been convicted; why are the bribe-takers silent?” he asked.

He alleged that a Central Bureau of Investigation probe in the case was hindered by the then United Progressive Alliance government.

The CBI probe in the helicopter deal is on.

In response, Antony told media persons: “It was the UPA government which had ordered CBI probe and cancelled the deal following the bribery charges. My request is that the government should complete the inquiry and punish the culprits. They must speed up inquiry on Agusta VVIP chopper deal.”

Italian group Finmeccanica’s former chief Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland’s former head Bruno Spagnolini were sentenced by a Milan appeals court to jail terms for false accounting and corruption in the sale of the firm’s 12 VVIP choppers to India.

While Orsi was given four and a half years in jail, Spagnolini was awarded a four-year jail term.

Three of the helicopters were delivered to the Indian Air Force before the contract — signed in February 2010 — was cancelled.

Rajya Sabha’s Deputy Leader of Opposition Anand Sharma said: “BJP has unleashed a malicious propaganda to mislead the people on the agreement signed by the government of India with Finmecanica for the purchase of Agusta Westland Helicopters alleging corruption, kickbacks and cover-ups.”

“This has been stated on behalf of the government by minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today (Tuesday). I categorically reject the accusations made, the innuendos and the aspersions that have been cast,” he added.

The IAF sought the AgustaWestland choppers as a replacement for its Mi-17 cargo helicopters that have been modified for VVIP deployment.

The Comptroller and Auditor General had made adverse comments, saying it was a waste of resources.

–IANS

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