NEW DELHI: After an Italian court purportedly cited documents where the Congress leadership and the UPA government were named, the scrapped Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal is back in spotlight.
On the warpath, the BJP launched a direct attack on Sonia Gandhi and the Congress tried to hide behind “we-ordered-the-CBI-probe’’ and “cancelled’’ deal arguments. But there was little doubt the VVIP chopper scam was back to haunt the Congress.
All this happened on a day when the party seemed surrounded by scam allegations yet again. Another of its former ministers, P Chidambaram, and his controversial son Karti were also on the mat over the Express expose of their huge hidden finances. So, the ruling BJP had its platter full. It fielded Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to launch an all-out offensive against the Congress on both the chopper deal and Karti’s illegal empire.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu said, “We are focusing on both the scams very seriously’’ while taking a “no one will be spared” line.
From the Congress end, former Defence Minister A K Antony said the present government should speed up the investigation and punish the culprits, which led to BJP ministers smirking about the possibility of the probe reaching the “doorstep’’ of his leadership. “Now that bribe givers have been convicted (by the Italian court) what should happen to the bribe takers? Will Mr Antony publicly give a statement on this? Will he accept that his partymen are involved in the scam?” Prasad asked. In response, Anand Sharma said that while the UPA government had blacklisted Finmeccanica — Agusta’s parent company, cancelled the Rs 3,600-crore deal, forced the Italian company to return the bank guarantee with interest and got three choppers delivered, “the current dispensation has removed them from the black list, why? Invited them to invest in Make in India—why?’’
But Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar denied the charge. “There’s no question of giving any relief to any one’’ in the case.
In a March 2008 letter, Christian Michel, a middleman, wrote to Peter Hulet, the India head of AgustaWestland, that Sonia was the driving force behind the chopper deal. The Italian court cited this letter as a document in which not just “Signora Gandhi’’ was mentioned.
However, the Congress insists there’s no mention of wrongdoing and it was an “unsigned letter’’ which “cannot be treated as proof’’.
In the letter, middleman Michel also claimed that bribes were paid to IAF officers, bureaucrats and politicians. Initials mentioned in the letter — A P and Fam — were seen by the investigators as Ahmed Patel and the family of former Air Force chief S P Tyagi.
Finmeccanica’s former chief Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland’s former head Bruno Spagnolini have been sentenced to jail by the court for corruption in the deal.
Two-pronged Attack on Chidambaram
The BJP will target the Congress, especially P Chidambaram, on his flip-flop on Ishrat Jahan affidavit, and Aircel Maxis deal in Parliament. But the AgustaWestland deal would be its major ammunition. The issues came up during the BJP’s parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday. The party will demand a discussion on the Aircel-Maxis scam in both the Houses on Wednesday. BJP leader Kirit Somaiya will raise the Ishrat issue in the Lok Sabha. The BJP has issued a whip asking all its members to be present.