The Agusta Westland VVIP chopper scam took political centre stage on Tuesday, with the BJP and the Congress hurling charges at each other. Using the conviction of Finmeccanica’s former chief by an Italian court in connection with the contract, the BJP asked then Defence Minister A K Antony to name Congress leaders allegedly involved in the scandal.
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The Congress hit back, arguing that the UPA government had taken action once reports of “wrongdoings” and allegations of “corrupt practices” surfaced in 2013. Besides cancelling the deal, the UPA had blacklisted Agusta Westland and confiscated the guarantee money. But the NDA government, the Congress said, has now removed Agusta Westland from the blacklist and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has even invited Finmeccanica and Agusta Westland to participate in the Make in India scheme.
Asking why the CBI and ED investigation was not taken to its logical conclusion, Congress leader Anand Sharma said the judgment of the Italian court does not refer to any complicity. The verdict, he emphasised, has to be read in full.
Sources in the BJP said the party plans to use the Agusta Westland and Ishrat Jahan issues to corner a combative Congress party in Parliament.
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said then Defence Minister Antony had, in March 2013, said that corruption had taken place in the chopper deal, and that bribe had been taken. “Bribe givers have been convicted (but) why are bribe takers silent? Antony should answer if Congress leaders are involved…please come clean,” Prasad said, adding that the chopper deal is not an isolated case of graft and that “corruption (was) the byword of UPA-I and UPA-II”.
Hitting back, Sharma, Congress’s deputy leader in Rajya Sabha, accused the BJP of leading a “vicious campaign” to mislead people. He said the UPA government had approached judicial authorities in Italy in July 2013. The Defence Ministry had then also sought information about Christain Micheal, said to be the main middleman in the scandal, from the United Kingdom. In January 2014, the government cancelled the contract, confiscated the guarantee money, blacklisted Agusta Westland and directed CBI and ED to launch an investigation.
But the Modi government, he claimed, was “benevolent” towards Agusta Westland. “This government allowed Agusta Westland to bid for projects in Indian Navy. This was objected in writing by the ED and CBI.”