New Delhi: In what may come as a major embarrassment for the Congress-led ruling coalition at the Centre, a factsheet prepared by the UPA government mentions President Pranab Mukherjee’s name in the controversial AgustaWestland chopper deal with Italy.
Reports, Friday, said that the deal with Italian defence firm Finmeccanica for supplying 12 choppers for the use of VVIPs was cleared during Pranab Mukherjee’s tenure as Defence Minister in 2005.
The government’s factsheet further states that the tender was finalised in 2005 when Pranab Mukherjee was the Defence Minister, and SP Tyagi, now retired, was the Air Chief Marshal.
The factsheet also puts the blame on the BJP-led NDA government of involvement in the deal. The Centre’s factsheet alleges that in 2003, the then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra wrote to the then Defence Secretary that the existing rules were unfair as it allowed only single bidding and that the qualifying height of the choppers should be reduced from 18,000 feet to at least 14,000 feet.
It also elaborates that in the initial tender only Eurocopter was found eligible to enter the bidding process. In 2003, Brajesh Mishra met the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, urging him to change the norms to include more bidders. Altitude requirements were brought down from 6,000 to 4,500 metres after that meeting.
Later, Mishra wrote to the Air Chief Marshal suggesting consultations with the Defence Secretary. After the UPA came to power, the factsheet says IAF, SPG, NSA and Defence Ministry held consultations and changes in requirements were incorporated.
When a new tender was floated, three foreign defence firms entered the bidding process, out of which AgustaWestland was finally selected. The Cabinet Committee on Security subsequently cleared the deal on January 18, 2010.
In the light of new development, it would be interesting to see whether the CBI will seek to question Pranab for his approval to the project since the President has immunity under the Constitution.
Amidst a blame game over the Italy chopper deal, the government yesterday warned Finmeccanica of legal action, including blacklisting, over corruption allegations in the VVIP chopper deal and asked them whether any slush money had been paid to fix the deal that has led to a political uproar.
The Ministry of Defence issued a detailed statement on the sequence of the $750 million deal for 12 VVIP AgustaWestland helicopters by the Italian firm`s subsidiary, two days after a CBI probe was ordered into the bribery charges.
The MoD asked the chief of AgustaWestland to "categorically state the clear position in view of the current developments indicating specifically if any financial transaction has taken place with any Indian individual/entity which violated the integrity pact or any other terms and conditions of the contract".
It also cited the clauses of the integrity pact that was signed, noting that the contract bars paying of bribes or involvement of middlemen. The clause warned of "strict action including cancellation of contract, recovery of payment, blacklisting and penal action" against the vendors.
The Defence Ministry warned that the government is "determined to take all possible legal and administrative action against the guilty parties and accordingly has ordered a thorough probe by CBI".
On Tuesday, the Italian government arrested Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi for allegedly paying bribes to fix the chopper deal.
The Italian probe report suggests that the former IAF chief Tyagi had met the middlemen more than six to seven times and allegedly briefed them about the developments in the contract and indirectly received kickback.