Identify middlemen in VVIP copter deal

Three years later media reports surfaced to suggest bribes may have been given and taken.

Taking firm and credible steps to inhibit corruption is needed to deepen people’s faith in the democratic process, but this is not on view. The public has grown cynical with the political class, irrespective of party labels, for firing anti-corruption salvos that are for public consumption alone. From the highest levels of the BJP, including senior ministers, a new refrain has been heard since Tuesday. This appears directed at making insinuations of corruption in the Agusta-Westland helicopter deal against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. This is an indication that a massive propaganda exercise in the forum of Parliament and outside is likely to follow to achieve the government’s ends.

The Vajpayee government had initiated the proposal to purchase the AW helicopters, with specialised equipment for the protection of VVIPs. In 2010, the Manmohan Singh government signed the deal. Three years later media reports surfaced to suggest bribes may have been given and taken. Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi was brought under immediate suspicion.

The UPA government cancelled the deal and set up CBI and Enforcement Directorate probes and blacklisted the company, confiscating the earnest money according to the contract. Subsequently, the Italian court of appeals at Milan overturned lower court verdicts and jailed the top shots of Finmeccanica, the Italian major which is the parent of AW, for resorting to bribery to the extent of euro 30 million, or Rs 360 crore, to bag the deal in India.

Among the papers filed in the court in Milan is said to be an unsigned document from one Christian Michel, a British citizen said to be the “middleman” who budgeted the alleged bribe money. Mr Michel is an accused in the case. The Milan court has noted that there are strong indications of accepting bribes by the former Indian Air Chief, but mentions no other name in the same vein. Among the papers looked at by the court, there is a statement — whose authenticity is to be ascertained — to say that Mrs Gandhi was the “main driving force” behind the proposed purchase of AW helicopters as she thought it was unsafe to fly the Russian helicopters in use until then.

The BJP’s case against Mrs Gandhi is sought to be constructed on this basis. This is surprising. How could she have been the main driving force when the proposal was first mooted when Mr Vajpayee was Prime Minister? It might be best for the government to despatch the CBI and the ED to interrogate the middleman, and take the investigation forward if there are suspicions against Congress leaders and bureaucrats and the former IAF Chief. Propaganda noises should not be permitted to short-circuit discussions in Parliament on key issues such as Uttarakhand, embarrassing foreign policy setbacks, and poor key economy indicators.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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