Excerpts from the interview:
The order of the Italian appeals court has come and in the appendices, there is clear mention of your name. Doesn’t this raise serious questions about your involvement in the deal?
I still haven’t seen the English copy of the judgment. I don’t know what are the details in it because it is in Italian. We have not yet translated it fully. Once it is done in a day or so, I will let you know the details. But I want to respond to the question you have asked. I want to put it on record that there is not an iota of truth in the allegation against me. My involvement is not there at all. On behalf of my party and my leaders, I want to say nobody is involved in it. For two years, this government has been there. They could have investigated all these things.
You are claiming you are innocent. You are also saying let the government investigate. But we have seen, over the years, that an investigation always takes time. It’s a long-drawn procedure involving a circuitous route to reach secret bank accounts. You can’t blame the government for taking time to unearth the truth of the AgustaWestland deal. After the judgment, doesn’t the buck stop at the UPA and Congress?
I am again saying everyone must see the operative part of the judgment. Let it be published. Then, we can respond. Let me see the arguments of the prosecutors and the counter responses. Do you know what the operative part of the order is? We are not involved in any wrongdoing. Still, you are putting allegations. Let us wait, read the entire judgment. Have you read it? Why should we mind if there is some substantive proof against anybody in the judgment? This is our country. This is my country’s deal. I am equally worried if any proof is found against any Indian. We must prosecute them. Let someone tell us, if anything is found against me or against any Congressman. This is a serious matter and we treat it accordingly. You can’t drag anybody’s name, go to television and level charges without any evidence whatsoever.
Your government was involved in the deal, so it is answerable.
Yes. Why don’t you look at the action taken by UPA? As soon as the media report on the allegations came in February 2012, Director General (Acquisition) in Defence Ministry sought a factual report from the Indian Embassy in Rome. Defence Ministry continued correspondence with Italian authorities and the Indian I-T department. On February 12, 2013, the case was handed over to the CBI and the government withheld payments of AgustaWestland. We even cancelled the AgustaWestland deal on the ground that the integrity pact had been violated.
Then, who is AP? There was mention of Pol and AP, and some amount was written on a page seized from an accused.
It is an unsigned paper. It is a page of some diary nobody knows about. What if AP is ‘already paid’ or ‘advance payment’? How can you say AP is Ahmed Patel? What is the proof you have? How can you twist it as you like? Is there any money trail? Is there anything linking me? If they have given bribe, then there should be a money trail of someone receiving money. That’s the most important thing.
At that time everybody in Delhi knew that you were the de facto treasurer of the party.
Absolutely baseless. You are talking about perception. I have never interfered. If the party fund is collected, it doesn’t mean I am involved. My party will never do such things in such kind of deals. Never ever.
Then what is the reason that the government is unable to investigate and find the bribe takers?
That, this government can answer. How can I speak on it? I was told that this accused (James Christian Michel), whom I don’t know, nor can I remember his name correctly, has written two letters to PM. He claims that PM of India met PM of Italy and they wanted to drag Sonia Gandhi in the case. If that could be done, then India would release the accused Italian marines. The ED which has been working under the Modi government has already completed its preliminary investigation and established the trail of money. It didn’t name a single member of the Congress party. So does the Modi government or does it not believe its own ED?
Has the CBI or ED ever contacted you in connection with the case?
No. Not during our time or after our time.
Are you willing to cooperate with the investigating agencies?
Of course, something concrete should be there. It should not be a political witch-hunt.
Have you ever met any of these people? Christian Michel or anybody connected to AgustaWestland?
Do you really believe Christian Michel?
That’s why we have not reacted. What I am saying is that the BJP is talking without any proof. This man has written a letter levelling serious charges. In the proceedings, the public prosecutor asked, ‘do you know Ahmed Patel?’ The accused said he doesn’t know me. From Google, you can know my name and details but no accused has said he knows me. I have not known him (Christian Michel). These allegations against me are baseless, malicious and defamatory.
You haven’t read the judgment?
I have read what all is appearing in print and on the Net. We are getting it translated. I am not worried nor in any hurry because I haven’t done anything wrong. Even the judge in Italy hasn’t been able to write anything against any of us in the operative part of the judgment. I am only worried about the wrong propaganda without any evidence whatsoever. This is a politically motivated issue. It is clear mischief to damage my image, my party and my leader’s image.
But the deal was done in your time.
So what? I wasn’t in the ministry. I was not in the deal-making process. No decision was taken in my presence. I was never part and parcel of the ministry.
Christian Michel was living in Delhi then and was known to many Congressmen.
I have never met him. The question does not arise. Period. If anybody can prove that I have even once met him or spoken to him, I will resign and leave public life. What does the Prime Minster have to say on Christian Michel’s letter? Isn’t it true India did not appeal when the lower court acquitted the accused?
You have said hang me if I am guilty?
Yes. Let them complete the inquiry. The inquiry has not moved forward. If they find anything against me, I have said hang me.
Your argument that this is a politically motivated case is a little weak because your name and that of Sonia Gandhi got linked to the AgustaWestland deal when your government was in power. So, the Modi government can’t be blamed for bringing in your name.
How many times do I repeat that the judgment is not against us? We have nothing to worry because we are not in it. The judge has not taken any cognizance whatsoever against us. In Hasan Ali case, Moin Qureshi case or Ishrat Jahan case, the government tried to drag in my name but they could not find anything. In this case, you will never find my involvement because I was not involved. They are desperate.
The allegation will weaken you politically.
I have no doubt I will emerge politically stronger from this episode.