VVIP copter scam in SC, petitioner seeks FIR against Sonia, Manmohan

BJP kept the pressure and tried to ridicule Gandhi, asking why an Italian court had mentioned her name in the case.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear plea seeking FIR against Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Ahmad Patel in the AgustaWestland chopper scam. The court will take it up next week.

A bench comprising Chief Justice T S Thakur and justices R Banumathi and U U Lalit ordered listing of the PIL when advocate M L Sharma said that it is an urgent matter which should be heard at the earliest.

CBI had in 2013 registered a case in connection with alleged bribes paid by the firm to Indians to clinch the deal for 12 helicopters to ferry VVIPs including the President and Prime Minister.

An Italian court has reportedly cited handwritten references to Gandhi, her political secretary Ahmed Patel and former Air Chief S P Tyagi by a middleman in a judgement that convicted the helicopter company's chief executive.

Read: AgustaWestland deal: Why is your name on Italy list? BJP asks Sonia

On Wednesday, a huge ruckus erupted in the Rajya Sabha as the BJP, executing its gameplan, tried to drag the name of Congress president Sonia Gandhi into the controversial deal, and angry Congress members erupted in protest, storming the Well of the House and paralysing proceedings for over an hour.

Gandhi took the BJP head on and hit back, saying she was “not afraid” of being “cornered” on the deal. “I am not afraid of anyone cornering me as there is no basis to that. All the accusations they are throwing at us are false and baseless,” Gandhi declared, calling it an attempt at “character assassination”.

VVIP chopper scam

After the Upper House witnessed verbal duels between Congress and BJP MPs, two Cabinet ministers, sources said, held parleys with senior Congress leaders in a bid to broker peace. Sources said finance minister Arun Jaitley and parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu held discussions with Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress deputy leader in the House Anand Sharma over lunch. Naidu, it was learnt, had invited them for the meeting.

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, however, challenged the Congress to show the UPA government’s order blacklisting AgustaWestland. Former PM Manmohan Singh, whose name was also dragged into the issue by the BJP, said in a crisp reply: “There is no case, my party will respond.”

Read: AgustaWestland deal: No brush-by with Italian PM, says Arun Jaitley

Earlier, a verbal duel erupted in the Rajya Sabha between Congress members and the treasury benches over newly nominated MP Subramaniam Swamy seeking to drag Gandhi’s name into the controversial AgustaWestland deal bribery case. This led to two adjournments of the Upper House in the pre-noon session. Mrs Gandhi’s name was later expunged by deputy chairman P.J. Kurien. BJP members had given a notice for discussion on the issue on Wednesday.

Outside Parliament, the BJP kept the pressure and tried to ridicule Gandhi, asking her to use her “old relations” in Italy to find out why an Italian court had mentioned her name in the AgustaWestland bribery case.

Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy said the government would “fulfil the Congress chief’s demand for a thorough probe, whose modalities will be decided once defence minister Manohar Parrikar makes a statement in Parliament on the issue”. Rudy tried to sound sarcastic as he said that “more revelations will come”.

VVIP chopper scam 2

Former defence minister A.K. Antony, refuting the BJP’s accusations, claimed that “no witnesses mentioned names of Congress leaders in the Italian court”. The Italian court documents, as claimed by the BJP, had allegedly named Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and some other Congress leaders including Ahmed Patel and Oscar Fernandes.

Ahmed Patel, Gandhi’s political secretary and a senior party leader, dismissed the accusations against him, saying these were “absolutely baseless”. He asked: “Why doesn’t the government probe instead of hurling accusations?” Patel then added: “If there is something against me, they should find out and hang me.”

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

In the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge demanded that the issues relating to the AgustaWestland deal and the reports appearing in the media be discussed. Kharge said that as the names of leaders of his party had been mentioned in media reports, the issue should be discussed. “Names have appeared. We will have to think about it. We should discuss,” he said. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, however, ruled Question Hour could not be suspended and the issue could be discussed later after a proper notice was given by Kharge.

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.

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.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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