AgustaWestland probe will focus on names in Italy court judgement, says Manohar Parrikar

Parrikar said the focus was on "corrupt practices" and the same will be "unmasked" through investigation.

AgustaWestland probe will focus on names in Italy court judgement, says Manohar Parrikar

New Delhi: Those whose names have been included in the Italian court judgement in the AgustaWestland chopper bribery case will be probed in India, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday during a debate on the matter.

"There is an agreement that corrupt practices were involved in procurement of AgustaWestland helicopters. The previous government recognised these and put on hold the group in 2014, and the present government passed the order," Parrikar said, replying to a short duration discussion on the issue.

Parrikar said the focus was on "corrupt practices" and the same will be "unmasked" through investigation.

"Given the above background, these inquiries will necessarily focus on the role of those named in the judgement of the Italian court. It is also important for ensuring a comprehensive investigation," Parrikar said.

"The Ministry of Defence has written to both ED and CBI to take into account the contents of the judgement and conclude the investigation expeditiously," he said.

The judgement names Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her political secretary Ahmed Patel, former IAF chief SP Tyagi and others.

Parrikar stressed during his reply that the fact that AgustaWestland was "favoured" at every stage of the deal was "most obvious".

The Congress has, however, stressed that the judgement does not indict anyone.

A dissatisfied Congress also staged a walkout from the House after Parrikar's reply, and Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said he was "disappointed" over the response.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, participating in the debate, said the mention of Sonia Gandhi, and others including Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmad Patel, in the judgement from the Milan court did not indict them, and only mentioned them as VVIPs who would use the choppers.

"By this logic all of the former including present president should be indicted... Mrs Gandhi was mentioned as someone flying on the chopper," he said.

Former defence minister AK Antony, meanwhile, told the government not to "threaten and blackmail" but to take action against the bribe takers.

"It is true... beyond doubt there is corruption in this deal... All legal hurdles are over, you have to act now," Antony said.

"Now corruption has been proved, we can win the arbitration case... get thousands of crores of rupees as compensation," Antony added.

The discussion that lasted around four hours, also saw opposition members demand for a Supreme Court monitoring to the inquiry.

Several members also questioned why the issue was being debated in the Rajya Sabha when there was no conclusive evidence, and the country is facing severe problems like drought.

BJP member Subramanian Swamy, who was named by Antony as trying to threaten the Congress, meanwhile said the CBI can, as per the law, question the person mentioned as the "driving force" behind the AgustaWestland deal, indicating at Gandhi.

"The CBI has the right under Section 156 of CrPC to question the person who is mentioned in the Italian court judgement as the 'driving force' behind the AgustaWestland chopper deal," Swamy said in the Rajya Sabha.

The multi-crore-rupee scam resurfaced last month after the names of some Congress leaders, including of party chief Sonia Gandhi, were said to have figured in a judgement by an Italian court.

AgustaWestland was alleged to have paid Rs 375 crore as bribe to secure the Rs 3,700-crore contract to supply 12 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force. The contract for purchase of helicopters for the use of VVIPs was signed in 2010. The previous UPA government scrapped the deal over charges of kickbacks.

(With IANS inputs)

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