The BJP today turned the heat on the Congress today and accused that a particular family has been benefitted by the scrapped Augusta Westland Chopper deal. Subramanian Swamy, who has sworn-in as member of Rajya Sabha just two days back, has attacked Congress by naming Sonia Gandhi inside the House. This led to a furore as Congress protested it saying when nobody is named in the Italian court order, how can their leaders be targeted.
Raising the issue soon after question hour, Mr Swamy targeted Sonia saying she is the “driving force” ( a term used in the note by the Italian company agent) behind the kickbacks and asked her to name her party men who got their share.
The issue was in fact mentioned in Lok Sabha yesterday itself, but in a subdued way. Master strategist Arun Jaitley along with Amit Shah has fine-tuned the letter bomb and decided to go wholehog against Congress by naming its Chief for the first time.
But Sonia Gandhi has rejected outright the allegations saying “ they are false, motivated and baseless”. She said she is not afraid of the revelations.
Communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asked the defence minister in the Manmohan Singh government, Mr A.K. Antony, to name the party leaders allegedly involved in the scandal. “Bribe-givers have been convicted. Why are the bribe-takers silent? Antony should answer if the leaders of the Congress are involved or not. Are they from your party or not? Please come clean,” the minister said.
Mr Antony asked the Narendra Modi government to fast track the probe into the scam and find out the truth as the UPA government had cancelled the contract in and ordered a CBI investigation into it. “When the primary allegation came out in the media, we immediately ordered a CBI inquiry. We cancelled the contract and fought the case in the Milan court. We won the case and got back all the money we paid in advance by bank guarantee,” Mr Antony said.
Hitting back at the ruling party, the Congress also rejected the allegations against Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh, saying that “we reject it with the contempt they deserve”.
In a retort, the Congress leader Anand Sharma has accused BJP that a businessman “close to” Mr Modi had entered into an MoU with AgustaWestland, but he refused to name him. He also asked the government why it had removed AgustaWestland from the blacklist it had been put by the UPA government.
On January 1, 2014, India had scrapped the contract with AgustaWestland to supply 12 AW101 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force over allegations of kickbacks by it for securing the deal. The then UPA government had also barred Finmeccanica and its group companies from taking part in any new defence contract bidding.
According to a report in the top British daily, the Mail Today, the middlemen have apparently targeted Sonia to clinch the deal by hook or crook.
A note written in March 2008 by middleman Christian Michel to Peter Hullet, India head of the Anglo-Italian company, was produced by the prosecutors in an Italian court where the trial is underway in the bribe scam. In the note, Michel had advised Hullet to “target” people close to Sonia Gandhi to clinch the 556-million-Euro deal. The note, allegedly written by another accused, Guido Hashcke, is a dictation by Michel about the payments which were divided into four parts carrying initials of “AF” (Air Force) 6million, “BUR” (bureaucrats) 8.4million, “Pol” (politicians) 6million and “AP” (alleged to be Ahmed Patel) to be paid 3million Euro. The document is accompanied by another handwritten note in which some payment details have been scribbled and which are said to be the “kickback budget.”
A copy of the note has appeared in an Italian newspaper which said Michel told Hullet that the British high commissioner in India should target Mrs Gandhi and her close advisers with a view to pushing the deal to sell 12 AW-101 helicopters meant for VVIP use.
“As Mrs Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP helicopter purchase, she will not fly any more in the Mi-8 (the ageing Russian-origin helicopters which needed to be replaced),” said the note which also carried names of her “key advisers.”
Among the seven advisers included in the note are: Manmohan Singh, Ahmed Patel, Pranab Mukherjee, M Veerappa Moily, Oscar Fernandes, M.K. Narayanan and Vinay Singh.
The Defence Ministry had moved with speed to cancel the VVIP helicopter contract on January 1, claiming that AgustaWestland had violated the “integrity pact” by engaging middlemen to clinch the deal. One of the reasons for hurrying the cancellation was thought to be the fear that allegations of corruption might reach the doorstep of the Congress president through her closest aide Ahmed Patel.