There was an "invisible hand" that prevented a proper investigation into the AgustaWestland scam from taking place during the United Progressive Alliance regime, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. He added that the ongoing investigation into the Rs 3,600 crore deal to purchase 12 VVIP helicopters from the Italian manufacturer will focus on those named in the Italian court judgement. Parrikar also rejected the Congress-led Opposition's demand for a Supreme Court-monitored investigators, reported PTI.
Parrikar said the country wants to know who instigated, supported and benefited from corruption, reported ANI. Narrating a chronology of events that led to the deal, the defence minister said the Central Bureau of Investigation had registered a case on March 12, 2013, but it did not forward a copy of the FIR to the Enforcement Directorate for nine months. The ED then did not act on the FIR till July 2014, he added. Parrikar said the government will leave no stone unturned in bringing to justice those who acted against national interests, reported NDTV.
Alleging that corruption had entered all aspects of governance during the UPA regime, BJP MP Bhupender Yadav said the Congress had provided a convenient backdoor entry to AgustaWestland by changing key aspects of the tender, including the flying ceiling – the maximum height at which a helicopter can function normally – from 6,000m to 4,500m. "Why did the UPA not initiate an investigation into who all took bribes in the deal? It is our responsibility to bring transparency in defence deals," said Yadav.
The BJP's Subramanian Swamy said there was a clear effort to eliminate all other companies so that only AgustaWestland would get the deal. He also asked the Congress why the original proposal to buy eight helicopters was modified to purchasing an additional four. Swamy also hinted that Congress MP Ahmed Patel is the "AP" who received Rs 125 crore as a bribe on behalf of Sonia Gandhi, according to the Italian court order.
In response, Patel said he would quit the Rajya Sabha and public life if any charges against him are proved, reported PTI. Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that the BJP’s charges were baseless and the "insecure ruling party" was trying to deflect attention from its failure in governance by forging a corruption case against those not involved in the deal. "We need to have more sense than sensationalism," Singhvi said. He also asked why the central government is relying on an Italian court's judgement rather than an Indian agency.
Janata Dal (United) MP Sharad Yadav also came down heavily on the Centre, saying the government should take some action and not just lecture. "You have the Constitution, the police, and investigators [at your disposal]. Why aren’t you doing anything?" he said. "We're with you if you go arrest people who have erred, but please do not indulge in mudslinging and making false accusations," he added. Yadav also attacked the media for engaging in frivolous debates on the scandal, adding that there are many other important issues to discuss in Parliament.
An Italian court recently said there was “reasonable belief” that corrupt practices were involved in India's deal with the firm for the 12 choppers, which were to be used by top leaders, including the prime minister. The Congress has vehemently denied the court’s statements and other allegations of corruption. The Central Bureau of Investigation has been leading an inquiry into the scam and has been questioning former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi, one of the main accused in the case.