Stung by AgustaWestland allegations, Congress stoutly defends Sonia Gandhi, says ‘Sherni hai yeh sherni’

While calling the AgustaWestland helicopter deal 'baseless allegations', Congress today demanded a Supreme Court monitored probe in the issue.

Stung by AgustaWestland allegations, Congress stoutly defends Sonia Gandhi, says ‘Sherni hai yeh sherni’

New Delhi: It seems that AgustaWestland bribery scam allegations have really stung Congress very deep. While defending party president Sonia Gandhi, the leaders o fthe grand old party on Friday had to take a dramatic turn to show that they are not afraid of anything. Rather, the ruling NDA government should beware of a “sherni (liones)” in the Congress camp.

While calling the AgustaWestland helicopter deal 'baseless allegations', Congress today demanded a Supreme Court monitored probe in the issue.

In an attacking speech in the Lok Sabha today, Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said that the Congress president's name does not appear in any authenticated document related to the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland helicopter deal and pointed to the government benches as he added, "Sonia Gandhi is a sherni who they are afraid of."

“Do not level baseless allegations. Answer the questions which we are raising. Supreme Court monitored investigation should happen and its reports should be placed in the House every three months,” Scindia added during the debate on a Calling Attention Motion on the issue.

He further said it was practice of the BJP members to level wrong and baseless allegations and through that, they want to create an illusion.

“But we too have taken an oath that we will break that ‘mayajaal’ (illusion) and place the facts in front of the country and this House,” Scindia said.

“The reality is that this deal was started during the NDA regime in 1999 and the issue they are talking about bringing down the height of the helicopter from 6000 to 4500 metres, it was done by NDA government in 2003 and not the UPA,” he said.

"In December 2003, a letter was written from the Prime Minister’s Office to change the norms and make it 4500 metres," Scindia said. The moment the issue came out in newspapers, he said the UPA government wrote to the embassy in Rome that investigation should be done as early as possible.

In April 2012, it was in fact the UPA government which ordered CBI to investigate the matter, Scindia said, adding that the contract was cancelled on February 15, 2013 and a notice was served on AugustaWestland and on January 1, 2014, the UPA government cancelled that contract.

In February 2013, the UPA government gave the case to the CBI and within 12 days, a preliminary inquiry was lodged, he informed adding Letter Rogatory too was issued to Tunisia, Mauritius and Italy.

“…24 months have passed of your government, what have you done in 720 days of your government? Have you brought in a single penny? Have you even identified a single person who has indulged in corruption,” he asked.

“In March 2013, we in the House had proposed to form a JPC (joint parliamentary committee). Why did the NDA oppose that proposal? People of this country should ask why you opposed that proposal in 2013,” the Congress leader said.

The 44-year-old Congress lawmaker referred to a letter from Peter Hullet, an Italian officer in AgustaWestland's India office, and said, "Hullet had written, Mrs Gandhi and her closest set of advisers are the people the high commissioner should value...Does this government imply that high-commissioners and diplomatic heads of different countries wish to meet our leaders in cases of corruption?"

The documents that the BJP has based its accusations against Gandhi on, Scindia said, was "an unverified piece of paper that does not contain anyone's signature."

Last month, an Italian court convicted Agusta officials for paying bribes in India. In his order the judge referred to documents seized from middlemen and Agusta executives which mentioned Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders.

The BJP alleges that Congress leaders colluded in corruption with Agusta officials.

Jyotiraditya Scindia quoted the judgement passed by the Milan court where the Judge, Marco Maiga, had said: "We have no evidence against Sonia Gandhi. Only a mention of her in the facts, Mrs Gandhi has only been indicated as someone who will fly in the VVIP helicopters."

He also quoted Agusta middleman Christian Michel as having said, "I have never met one single Gandhi ever in my life. Not a letter, not a message, not a mention (their's) in any memo. I am absolutely sure that no money was ever paid to the Gandhis."

In a counter attack, the Congress MP said, "The BJP must answer why it signed a deal of 36 Rafale aircraft for 9 billion dollars when the UPA had bargained for 125 aircraft for 10 billion dollars."

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar ripped into the Congress in his reply to the debate, saying, "I had respect for Scindia...while I thought he was a very good orator, he was totally lying, he took total liberties with the truth by saying the Rafal deal was 10 million dollars."

(With Agency inputs)

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