Chopper deal: I blacklisted AgustaWestland, not UPA, says Arun Jaitley

On a day when the controversial chopper deal triggered a stormy debate and trading of charges in the Rajya Sabha, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday rubbished Congress' claim of having blacklisted AgustaWestland.

Last Updated: May 04, 2016, 23:52 PM IST

Delhi: On a day when the controversial chopper deal triggered a stormy debate and trading of charges in the Rajya Sabha, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday rubbished Congress' claim of having blacklisted AgustaWestland.

Jaitley said that he had as defence minister in June 2014 put the transaction to buy 12 helicopters from the Italian firm on hold and in July barred any future contract with it.

The NDA government, he said, has no political motive except to identify the beneficiaries of the kickbacks received in award of the helicopter contract.

"Today we are at a stage that we have reason to suspect that bribes have been taken. And therefore that is a launching pad for a proper investigation.... Today it is only reason to suspect that somebody has taken bribe," Jaitley said in Frankfurt.

Maintaining that the government has no political intention in pursuing the case except that the beneficiaries should be identified, he said "The identity of the beneficiaries cannot be camouflaged behind a political controversy", as per PTI.

Attacking Congress, Jaitley said they "invented" an argument that UPA had blacklisted Agusta and NDA had removed it from the black list.

"The UPA never blacklisted Agusta. On June 9, 2014 I had put the whole transaction on hold and then a formal order was issued on July 3 after taking Attorney General's advice that no new contracts will be entered into till the matter is investigated," he said.

Jaitley had held additional charge of Ministry of Defence from May 2014 till early November 2014.

He said the July 3 order of the Defence Ministry still holds. 

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party today accused the previous UPA government of "twisting norms" in the process of procuring VVIP choppers from AgustaWestland.

The Opposition Congress hit back, stating that the process for buying VVIP choppers started during the tenure of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government, and that the norms were changed by the then BJP-led government.

It also said that the mention of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the Italian court judgment does not prove any involvement in the deal, as per IANS.

Newly-nominated BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who was fielded by the ruling side in Rajya Sabha, demanded recording of statement from former PM Manmohan Singh along with others named in the judgement of an Italian court recently.

The five-hour debate ended with a walkout by Congress after its demand for SC-monitored probe was rejected by the government.

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad described as an "insult" the Defence Minister reading out a prepared statement in his reply and said it contained only allegations.

As Congress members raised objections to Parrikar reading out his reply from a prepared text, Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien ruled that a minister has all the right to read from a prepared speech.

The Congress fielded the then Defence Minister AK Antony, Sonia's political secretary Ahmed Patel along with Abhishek Manu Singhvi to defend the actions of the previous UPA government, insisting that there was no wrongdoing.

All of them pressed for a thorough and urgent probe into the matter to clear the air, with Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad wanting the investigation to be monitored by the Supreme Court and completed in three months.

The government, however, rejected the demand.

(With Agency inputs)