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A file photo of AgustaWestland (AW101) VVIP Airforce Helicopter. The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday witnessed fiery exchanges between the Congress and BJP Members during the debate on AgustaWestland chopper deal. (Photo: PTI)

DC Debate: Rotor wash

Vijender Gupta

The Congress has been out of power for almost two years, but their pot of misdeeds is so full that the scams are still spilling out, giving the Congress high command their “chickens have come home to roost” moment and their minions, sleepless nights. The latest one is the critical judgment by the Italian Court of Appeals at Milan on the kickbacks given by AgustaWestland to seal a 12 AW101 chopper deal in their favour. The Italian court has, in its ruling, made damning observations, putting the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in the dock, which it just cannot escape by political mudslinging or manoeuvring.

The Rs 3,546 crore AgustaWestland contract created sensation in the Indian political circles when, in February 2013, Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica, was arrested on charges of corruption. A probe by Italian investigative agencies had alleged that

Mr Orsi paid bribes through middlemen, including Indian nationals and consultant, Guido Haschke, an Italian national. The probe further pointed out that the terms of the tender were altered to accommodate AgustaWestland which was competing with American chopper maker Sikorsky’s S-92 Superhawk. The first tender had a service ceiling requirement of 6,000 metre, which was reduced by the defence ministry in the second tender in 2006 to 4,500 metre.

As a face-saving measure, the then defence minister, A.K. Antony, scrapped the scam-ridden deal in January 2014, but did not blacklist the firm. Even the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India brought to light irrefutable facts regarding deviations from the established procedure in procurement of the 12 helicopters. Though the Central Bureau of Investigation initiated the preliminary inquiry after the arrests of by the Italian police, the investigation on the Indian side went on at a snail’s pace.

Even the Italian Court of Appeals made scathing remarks on the then Indian defence ministry’s deliberate attempts to derail the investigation by not cooperating with their Italian counterparts. It pointed out that the UPA government showed substantial disregard in sharing key information to reach the truth of the matter. The Italian agencies had sought all documents concerning the Rs 3,546 crore-chopper deal in April 2013, but had received only three documents pertaining to the case by March 2014. The Italian court, in its order, has established the fact that kickbacks to the tune of Rs 360 crore were given.

However, Congress leaders who were in power at the time the deal was signed and sealed refuse to reveal the names of the bribe takers. In the course of the Italian probe, the names of Congress’ high command, including Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel, had cropped up a number of times.

The most recent disclosure by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Kirit Somaiya brings to light the link between Rahul Gandhi’s close aide Kanishka Singh and Mr Haschke, exposing the Congress’ citadel of corruption headed by the Gandhi scion.

The brazenness with which the Congress is fighting the current storm, by flinging charges at the BJP instead of coming clean, does not shock anyone.

In fact, it has accepted that its image in the eyes of the Indian masses is that of a party that functions for two sole purposes: to keep the Nehru-Gandhi family politically relevant and to fill its coffers as and when the opportunity arises, thus becoming almost synonymous with corruption.

The Narendra Modi-led government has laid out a roadmap to make India’s defence procurement procedure more transparent and accountable while weeding out the delay causing norms that has kept India’s defence base weak and outdated.

With the introduction of the defence procurement procedure 2016, it has put emphasis on “maintaining highest standards of transparency, probity and public accountability” in defence deals, while ensuring that “expeditious procurement, high quality standards and appropriate cost needs are established”.

 

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