Shielding Sonia and Rahul Gandhi from the heat over the AgustaWestland case, former defence minister A K Antony claimed the former and current Congress presidents had not interfered in defence deals during the UPA years.
Accusing the Centre of “misusing agencies” to “manufacture lies”, the senior Congress leader told reporters, “As former defence minister, I would like to categorically state that Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi never showed any interest in any defence deal.”
“The moment the report came from Italy that there is corruption in this case, it was me who had ordered a CBI enquiry, not this government. Our government took an unusual decision to fight this case in Italy. Ultimately, we won the case,” he added.
Questioning the present Narendra Modi-led government over its role to probe the case, Antony said, “Whenever the media reported about corruption in the deal, we initiated an inquiry. We had taken the decision to blacklist five to six powerful companies, including one American, Russian and Singapore company. That was our track record, but what is the track record of the present government?”
Antony’s remarks came two days after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) informed the Delhi court that Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the VVIP chopper case, made a reference to “Mrs Gandhi” while he was being questioned.
ED’s Special Public Prosecutor, D P Singh, had told the court, “Parson (December 27) inhone Mrs Gandhi ka naam liya tha ek kisi reference mein. Main reference ka naam nahin loonga. To humein follow-up question karna tha ki Mrs Gandhi kaun hai… Medical examination ke time par unhein legal access diya gaya tha ki achaanak ye notice kiya gaya ki unhone kuchch diya hai, jo vakil sahib ne apne jeb mein rakh diya. Jab check kiya gaya to Mrs Gandhi par jo follow-up questions they woh vakil sahib ko slip-in kiye gaye (Day before yesterday, Michel took Mrs Gandhi’s name in some reference. I won’t say in what reference. So we needed to ask him a follow-up question as to who Mrs Gandhi is… He was given legal access during medical examination when suddenly we noticed that he handed over something to his lawyer, who pocketed it. When we checked, we found that the follow-up questions related to Mrs Gandhi had been slipped to the lawyer).”
Claiming there is a “conspiracy to shield or tamper with evidence”, the prosecutor had said that this could be revealed from the questioning of the accused.
Following the ED’s submission, both the BJP and the Congress traded charges, with the latter calling it a case of “BJP scriptwriters… working overtime” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP, on the other hand, said the “revelations” had “stunned the nation” and were all pointing towards “one family”. It also accused the Opposition party of “defending” Michel.
“Ever since Michel was brought back to India, the Congress expectedly is nervous and jittery and that is coming to the fore, as was evident at its press conference today,” BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, BJP chief ministers across BJP-ruled states are expected to address separate press conferences on the ED’s statement later in the day, news agency ANI reported.