New Delhi: As the Ministry of Defence on Friday initiated the process to scrap the deal with AgustaWestland for 12 VVIP helicopters, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is probing into the case, has decided to send a team to Italy within a week.
According to CBI sources, the investigating agency got no incriminating documents from the Ministry of Defence as only a small briefing was given by the ministry officials on Friday. Sources further said that they expected some details to register preliminary enquiry, but got nothing, hence the CBI decided to rush teams to Italy in next two days.
This came after the government issued a notice to the company, asking why the deal should not be cancelled. AgustaWestland has been asked by the government to reply to the notice within seven days, even as the Ministry has asked the company to explain the bribery charges in the case.
The step has been taken by the government after it asked specifically about the recipients of the bribe, both individuals and entities.
Earlier on Friday, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Kirit Somaiya on Friday wrote to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seeking an investigation into the role of Rahul Gandhi's political aide Kanishka Singh in the AgustaWestland 101 helicopter deal. Somaiya has reportedly claimed that Emaar MGF Land Limited owned by Kanishka Singh's relatives benefitted from the chopper deal.
"Emaar MGF is a real estate company owned by late Ved Prakash Gupta with late SK Singh being one of the promoters and shareholders of the company. SK Singh is father of Kanishka Singh who is close to Rahul Gandhi and served as a his political secretary.
"It is believed that British citizen Michel, had received 60 per cent (around Rs 210 crore) of the kickback amount of 51 million Euros (around Rs 360 crore) from the Finmeccanica, the manufactures of AgustaWestland choppers. His contacts are stronger especially with the Indian Defence, that he has inherited from his father, Wolfgang Max Michel Richard, a British businessman who was very active in India between 80s and 90s and was close to the Congress party," Somaiya wrote in his letter to the CBI Director.
Meanwhile, Emaar MGF Land Limited has issued a clarification saying Guido R Haschke - one of the alleged middlemen in the deal - was a director in the company for only two months and that the company has had no association with him or any of his businesses or associates other than this. Emaar said in the press release that Haschke did not attend any board meetings during his association with the company.
"Guido R Hashke was an independent non-executive director for an extremely brief period of approximately two months i.e. September 25, 2009 to December 7, 2009, Emaar MGF has had no association with him or any of his businesses/associates other than this.
"Hashke was appointed on the Board of the Company due to the statutory requirement of having certain number of independent directors on the board to be a publicly listed company. Therefore he was appointed as an independent director to fulfill the requirements of the company's proposed IPO at that time...We wish to state on record that he did not attend any board meeting during his tenure of appointment and in fact has never visited our offices at any time nor has had any meetings with any of our officials at any time. Furthermore, he has not represented the company in any forum at any time," said Emaar MGF in its statement.
Earlier in the day, the BJP alleged that the Congress misuses the CBI and demanded a probe into the VVIP chopper deal by a Special Investigation Team monitored either by the Supreme Court or a parliamentary committee. With fingers also being pointed at the BJP, the main Opposition party said it had no problem with the probe covering the period when it was in power at the Centre. "Congress is notoriously known for misusing CBI for partisan political ends. That's why for BJP the suggestion of a CBI inquiry is not acceptable. Because, CBI has no credibility and the government's intention is also doubtful," senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters in Hyderabad.
He said the government talked about a CBI inquiry only after a case was filed over the issue in Italy and the "revelations" came to light that "payments were made to Indian middlemen also". He wanted to know why the government acted belatedly despite the issue being raised in Parliament in 2011 and BJP MP Prakash Javadekar writing to the Defence Minister. "We do not have confidence in CBI. Because we have seen how the CBI, the Governor's institution, the Income Tax department, the Enforcement Directorate and all other organisations are being misused by the government. One, to harass political opponents, second, to keep its allies under control and third, to win over neutrals," he alleged.
In the national capital, BJP Secretary Balbir Punj told reporters: "The details coming out indicate a very serious conspiracy hatched at the top level which includes the bureaucracy, armed forces and most importantly the political leadership who were a part of it. All efforts are now being made to cover-up this conspiracy". He maintained that while the Indian government has been silent on this issue for so long, it is the Italians who took the initiative to uncover the scam.
"The Indian government is trying to divert attention from the scam and misguide people," he said, insisting that "somebody very high" appears to be involved in the scam. Defence Minister AK Antony had on Tuesday ordered a CBI probe into the allegations of huge kickbacks being paid to middlemen in the Rs 3600 crore deal for purchase of 12 three-engine AW-101 helicopters for VVIP security. Naidu said his party was not averse to the probe covering the period when BJP helmed the Central government.
Jaswant Singh, former defence minister in the NDA government, had on Thursday admitted that parameters for purchase of these helicopters, that made AugustaWestland eligible to participate in the bidding process, were changed on the directions of the then national security adviser Brajesh Mishra but defended the decision saying it was done to avoid a single-vendor situation. Naidu said the BJP would corner the government over the chopper deal in the coming Parliament session. Replying to a query, he said Italian connections in the deal needed to be probed. "Italian connections have to be probed. Natural doubts are arising in the minds of the people. I do not want to name any individual without having direct proof.
"But, my point is why the government kept quiet from 2011 to now, after Prakash Javadekar raised the issue in Parliament and also wrote a letter to Defence Minister. The minister told that they will conduct an inquiry. Two years have passed and the government did not act. Why? Who compelled the government not to act?" he said. All aspects of the deal, like who signed the contract, who were the middlemen and what were their connections, needed to be looked into, he said.
In Delhi, BJP Vice-President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi demanded that a Supreme Court monitored probe should be ordered in the scam. "Congress has become an institution of strong middlemen. From coal to copter, there have been exposes of serious kickbacks, corruption and scams," Naqvi said. He alleged that several scams have been reported in the defence sector itself. "There are question marks over the submarine deal, the Tatra trucks, Czech pistol issue is still unresolved and now we have the helicopter scam," Naqvi said.
He charged that in all these scams the government and the Congress has been seen defending the "real culprits". "There should be a probe into the helicopter deal which should be monitored by the Supreme Court. Instead of engaging in a whitewash, the government should clarify what role it has played in the scam. The names which have surfaced in the scam have deep relations with the Congress," Naqvi said.
(With Additional Inputs from PTI)