New Delhi, May 26 (IANS) Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Thursday said there was “101 percent” political interference in the AgustaWestland helicopters deal, and added that the then defence minister A.K. Antony “did not have the guts” to order a CBI probe in time.
The defence minister, in an interview to IANS, also said that he never named Congress president Sonia Gandhi as an accused as there is no evidence so far.
“I never named Sonia Gandhi. I never named her in the debate. I said big leaders like Sonia Gandhi are named in the judgment. But I did not name her as an accused of corruption,” Parrikar told IANS.
The minister said he can name anyone only when he has proof.
“I did not name because the day I have any proof against any person, the name will come out,” Parrikar said.
“Investigation has to reveal that; how do you expect the ministry of defence to find out. I do not have the resources to find that out… Police should find that out; it’s the CBI’s job, not mine,” Parrikar said.
The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate are probing the case of corruption in the deal to buy VVIP choppers from AgustaWestland.
“This is my stand throughout my life. Unless there is evidence against a person, it is not right to name a person… I followed it as chief minister of Goa also,” the minister said.
He, however, said that there was “political interference” in the chopper deal.
“There is no need to say that… 101 percent there was political interference. Antony, who has never acted, acted every time his name came into cloud in this case,” Parrikar said.
“He was fearing that some day the whole issue will come out. It was immediately given to CBI when (former CEO of AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica, Guiseppe) Orsi was arrested. It should have been given to CBI earlier but he did not have the guts,” the minister said.
Taking a jibe at the former defence minister, Parrikar added: “He must not have gotten a phone call to do so in national interest.”
Orsi was arrested on charges of corruption. He was later acquitted of the charges, but jailed for false invoicing.
In April this year, Orsi and AgustaWestland ex-head Bruno Spagnolini were jailed on corruption charges. The Italian court judgment has mentioned the names of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Congress leader Ahmad Patel, and former Indian Air Force chief Air Marshal S.P. Tyagi, though it does not indict any of them.
Asked to comment on the claims by officials under the previous government that all procedures had been followed, the minister responded in affirmative, but added that those procedures were used to benefit one vendor — AgustaWestland.
“The process is fine, I will put it like this — All things have been done within the powers granted, but done in a manner where they have favoured one particular vendor,” said Parrikar.
“The primary indicators of corruption are proved. The exemption is not justifiable, so it is a fraud. Powers exist but powers have to be used with proper justification,” he said.
Asked if the role of bureaucrats in the deal was being looked into, the minister said: “Give me some time… I have to finish Rafale, I have to go to Singapore, and then also have to finalise the DPP (Defence Procurement Procedure). How do you do all these things. Everything takes time. Lot of people want me to dig up 10 different cases, would I do just that?”
On his remarks in parliament that “invisible hands” were behind the Agusta deal, Parrikar said: “I am moving around with a box of paint to catch those invisible hands. You must have seen Mr. India…” The reference was to the Bollywood film “Mr India” in which the hero could become invisible.
Parrikar added that while the defence ministry is not monitoring the CBI probe in the case, it would ask about the progress.
The multi-crore-rupee AgustaWestland helicopter deal scam resurfaced last month after the names of some Congress leaders, including of party chief Sonia Gandhi, were said to have figured in the judgment of the Italian court.
AgustaWestland was alleged to have paid Rs.375 crore in bribes to secure the Rs.3,700-crore contract to supply 12 AW101 helicopters to the Indian Air Force.
The choppers were to fly VVIPs like the president, prime minister and others.
The contract was signed in 2010. The previous UPA government scrapped the deal in 2013 after Spagnolini and Orsi were arrested on charges of bribing middlemen to secure the deal with the IAF.
(Anjali Ojha can be reached at email@example.com)