Decision on naming Sudhir Choudhrie yet to be taken.
Nearly two weeks after Defence Minister A K Antony ordered a CBI probe into the alleged bribery case involving British major Rolls Royce’s contracts with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the agency initiated a probe and said it is likely to register a preliminary enquiry (PE), instead of a regular case.
CBI officials argued they will first examine the allegations of bribery through a verification process during the PE as they are yet to find any “direct evidence” of the allegations. The agency will also set a deadline of two months to finalise its investigations, said officials.
The PE is also likely to name HAL and Rolls Royce officials, but a decision whether to include the name of alleged arms dealer Sudhir Choudhrie in the case is yet to be taken, a senior CBI official said. The agency said that after receiving communication from the Defence Ministry, they are in the process of collecting the documents and contracts between HAL and Rolls Royce.
Soon after a CBI probe was announced, Rolls Royce had offered to return the commission paid by India. The agency said it will also contact Rolls Royce representatives to seek their version before finalising its investigations.
Choudhrie’s role is also being probed in connection with the 2007 Soltam deal worth Rs 208 crore, in which he was first named by the CBI. The case, closed in 2010 for want of sufficient evidence, has been reopened by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to dig out fresh evidence against Choudhrie to be examined by the CBI. Choudhrie’s name first came up in the Rolls Royce bribery case after he and his son were questioned by Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in UK last month.
The agency is also likely to mention Rs 5,000 crore worth of contracts received by Rolls Royce in its PE. It is suspected that hefty commissions were allegedly paid to intermediaries to bag defence deals.
The British firm had already admitted to hiring a private firm as a “commercial advisor” for deals in India and that it was paid a certain percentage of the contract value. The “advisor” has been identified as the Aashmore Private Limited, a company led by Singapore-based Ashok Patni.
The CBI also said that it has sought a detailed report through Interpol on the role of Patni and Choudhrie. The reference from the Defence Ministry recently received by the CBI also cited the ongoing anti-corruption investigation into the company by SFO as well as red flags raised by HAL that conducted an internal probe after receiving several complaints.