VVIP chopper scam: Govt to seek CBI report, blacklist AgustaWestland; Sonia Gandhi rejects allegations against her
Amid raging row over VVIP chopper scam, and sparks flying in Rajya Sabha after BJP leader Subramanian Swamy dragged Congress president Sonia Gandhi's name in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter bribery case, the government said on Wednesday that it will seek a report from the CBI on the deal and initiate the move to blacklist AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica.
Delhi: Amid raging row over VVIP chopper scam, and sparks flying in Rajya Sabha after BJP leader Subramanian Swamy dragged Congress president Sonia Gandhi's name in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter bribery case, the government said on Wednesday that it will seek a report from the CBI on the deal and initiate the move to blacklist AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica.
Top Modi government sources claimed that the UPA government had not blacklisted AgustaWestland despite allegations of bribery and that it was only when the NDA came to power in 2014 all acquisition proposals with the firm were put on hold.
The VVIP chopper deal relates to a 2010 decision of the UPA government to buy 12 helicopters from Italian manufacturer, Finmeccanica.
But reports later said the Italian company had paid a bribe of up to Rs 3,565 crore to swing the deal.
Govt to seek CBI report:
CBI had in 2013 registered a case in connection with alleged bribes paid by the firm to Indians to clinch the deal for 12 helicopters to ferry VVIPs including the President and Prime Minister.
Congress had yesterday claimed AgustaWestland was blacklisted under UPA rule but "removed" from the blacklist by the Modi government.
Congress leader and former Union Minister Anand Sharma had said, "The chopper deal was scrapped. Action was taken by the UPA government. A K Antony, the then Defence Minister, had made a statement in Parliament and AgustaWestland was blacklisted."
However, the government sources said, "The only punitive action taken by the Congress was in January 2014, just before the Lok Sabha elections, when the UPA govermment encashed the bank guarantee. They never blacklisted the company as claimed by them", as per PTI.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had earlier in the day challenged the Congress to show the order by the UPA government confirming the blacklisting.
It was on July 3, 2014 when Arun Jaitley was Defence Minister that an order was issued which put on hold all procurement and acquisition cases in the pipeline with six companies involved in the scam including AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica, the sources said.
They said it was also decided that in cases where the tender process had not started, there shall be no dealing with those companies and entities till conclusion of the CBI probe and that Request for Intent/Request for Proposal shall be issued to any of them.
The sources said the question was not about being banned or not but about who the politicians, bureaucrats and IAF officials were who took the bribes as reported by the Italian Court.
Sparks fly in Rajya Sabha:
Meanwhile, Congress members today, calling Swamy a "CIA agent", created bedlam, forcing repeated adjournments of the House in the pre-lunch session.
However, Chairman Hamid Ansari prevailed on the agitating members to take up the Question Hour.
Swamy, a BJP leader who took oath only yesterday as a new member nominated by the government, raked up the issue of AgustaWestland chopper case through his first Zero Hour intervention soon after the House met for the day.
He cited allegations reportedly made by Christian Michel, the controversial middleman in the Rs 3600 crore VVIP chopper deal, through a letter to the High Court of Italy.
As soon as Swamy named Gandhi, Congress members angrily stormed into the Well, with a handful even moving closer to the treasury benches menacingly. Members of the treasury benches too got up on their seats to counter the Opposition.
Sonia hits back:
On the other hand, a combative Congress president and former PM Manmohan Singh today dismissed the bribery charges in the chopper scam as the BJP tried to corner the main opposition party.
Sonia said she was "not afraid" and dubbed the allegations as false.
"We have nothing to hide. Let them (government) take my name, I am not afraid of anyone because there is no basis to that allegation. They amount to calumny. Where is the proof? They are lying. This is part of their (BJP's) strategy of character assassination," Gandhi told the media.
Singh also rebutted the charges. "There is no case. My party will respond."
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, whose name also figures in the Milan court ruling, said he was ready to hang if anything was found against him.
(With Agency inputs)