Nation Politics 27 Apr 2016 ‘Not afraid, have ...

‘Not afraid, have nothing to hide’: Sonia Gandhi on VVIP copter scam

Published Apr 27, 2016, 11:47 am IST
Updated Apr 27, 2016, 3:47 pm IST
Referring to the Modi government, Gandhi asked what has it been doing over the last two years.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi (Photo: PTI)
 Congress President Sonia Gandhi (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: Under relentless attack over the Uttarakhand crisis, the BJP on Wednesday countered the Congress by raking up the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scam, in which the names of the party top brass, including its president Sonia Gandhi, have also cropped up.

However, Sonia Gandhi rejected allegations linking her and party leaders in the AgustaWestland chopper deal bribes and said she was not ‘afraid’ of being ‘cornered’ on the issue.


She asked what the government had been doing in power for the last two years on the issue and demanded the ongoing inquiry be completed impartially. "I am not afraid of anyone cornering me as there is no basis to it. All accusations they are throwing at us are false," Gandhi told reporters in Parliament complex as BJP sought to target her on the deal.

"Where is the proof? They are lying. They are part of a strategy of character assassination which we have known these people indulge in," Gandhi said.

Referring to the Modi government, Gandhi asked what has it been doing over the last two years. "The government is there for the last 2 years. What are they doing? Inquiry is there, why don't they complete it? Complete it as soon as possible, impartially," she added.


Read: 'No case' in AgustaWestland, Congress will respond: Manmohan Singh

Gandhi's political secretary and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel also rubbished the allegations against him and the party as "absolutely baseless."

"This government, when they are saying all these things outside and inside the Parliament, why can't they investigate," Patel said.

"If there is something against me, they should find out and they should hang me," he said when asked by reporters for his reactions over the allegations.

Earlier in Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said all newspapers have the news item regarding the VVIP helicopter deal and allegations have been levelled against party leaders.


"Names have appeared. We will have to think about it. We should discuss," he said without naming AgustaWestland. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said the issue can be raised after the Question Hour.

Here are the live updates:

2:00 pm: Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar challenges Congress to show the order of UPA govt blacklisting AugustaWestland.

“We have a copy of the Italian Court order. We are in the process of translating it into English,” says Parrikar.

1:30 pm: Congress leader AK Antony says, “In last two years this government has done nothing. They were sleeping.”


1:10 pm: Lok Sabha adjourned till 2:05 pm.

1:05 pm: Bhagat Singh is being referred as a ‘terrorist’ in books. What history is being taught in schools and colleges? asks BJP leader Anurag Thakur.

Thakur said this matter must be discussed. No one can call Bhagat Singh a terrorist.

1 pm: Rajya Sabha adjourned till 2 pm after uproar by the Congress members.

12:30 pm: Congress leader Ahmed Patel says, “They should hang us if they get any proof against us.”

The government is there, agencies are there, then they must investigate, says Patel.


12:25 pm: Such big names are coming up in AgustaWestland case, even we are surprised, says BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy on Sonia Gandhi.

12 pm: We have nothing to hide. Let them take my name, I am not afraid, says Congress president Sonia Gandhi on AugustaWestland issue.

11:35 am: Rajya Sabha adjourned till 12 pm minutes after uproar by the Congress members when BJP leader Subramanian Swamy speaks on AugustaWestland scam.

11:26 am: Uproar in Rajya Sabha by Congress.

11:10 am: Citing a report, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad asks Rajya Sabha, “Would like to know whether a meeting took place between two PMs as cited in a newspaper, was a deal struck?”


Finance minister Arun Jaitley says in Rajya Sabha, “Reports that Prime Ministers of India and Italy met are completely false.”

11 am: Parliament session starts in both Houses.

10:30 am: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says, “There is no case, my party will respond.”

10 am: Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge says, “We are ready to discuss AgustaWestland issue in Parliament.”

The ruing party will also raise issues like Ishrat Jahan case and Aircel-Maxis deal to target the Congress within Parliament and outside.

In a counter-offensive attack, the Congress on Tuesday sought a discussion on the VVIP helicopter deal and pointed to the role of an industrialist said to be “close to” Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


Read: VVIP copter scam: BJP targets Congress, says they owe an explanation

Media reports said an Italian court ruling stated how the firm lobbied with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her close aides, besides then NSA M.K. Narayanan and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the VVIP helicopter deal. Mrs Gandhi was described as the “driving force” behind the deal in these court papers. The VVIP helicopter scam also figured prominently in the BJP parliamentary party meeting, that was also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The party focused on this strategy to take on the Congress, which is leading the Opposition attack on the government on the Uttarakhand crisis. The BJP has issued a whip asking its Rajya Sabha members to be present in the House during the week as the government plans to push some important bills in the Upper House.


Read: In Rajya Sabha, Swamy links Sonia with VVIP copter scam, Cong forces adjournments

The CBI has, meanwhile, approached the external affairs ministry seeking the help of diplomatic channels to get a copy of the Italian court’s ruling in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal. Sources said the CBI has completed the domestic portion of its investigation in the case, but the judicial requests sent to eight countries are still pending.

The Milan court of appeals, which overturned a lower court’s order, sentenced Finmeccanica’s former chief Giuseppe Orsi to 4.5 years in jail for false accounting and corruption in the sale of 12 VVIP helicopters to India for over Rs 3,600 crores, while former CEO of Finmeccanica’s helicopter subsidiary AgustaWestland, Bruno Spagnolini, has been handed a four-year sentence.


Sources said that under the BJP’s strategy to take on the Congress, the ruling party will also demand a discussion on the Aircel-Maxis scam, in which the role of former finance minister P. Chidambaram has been questioned. BJP MP Anurag Thakur will raise it in the Lok Sabha, and Bhupender Yadav will bring it up in the Rajya Sabha. Chidambaram is also likely to come under attack by the BJP over the affidavits filed in the Ishrat Jahan case. Mr Chidambaram has been accused of changing the affidavit to conceal Ishrat’s alleged terrorist links. The BJP’s Kirit Somaiya will raise it in the Lok Sabha, while another BJP member will bring it up in the Rajya Sabha.


Read: Ex-IAF chief denies wrongdoing, says chopper deal was a collective decision

Attacking the Congress over the VVIP helicopter scam, 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.

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”.


“No one should make loose comments (about) the Congress president and the former PM, whose integrity and intellect was never in question,” Congress’ Rajya Sabha deputy leader Anand Sharma said. He said the BJP had been making irresponsible statements and wild allegations and the Congress was not going to accept this. Mr Sharma also claimed 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.


Read: Why did Modi govt remove AgustaWestland from blacklist: Congress

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 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.

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.


Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi