RESPONDING to allegations levelled by the main Opposition Congress on its probe in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal, the government Friday denied that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “cut any deal” with Italy on this issue and described such charges as an attempt to divert attention from the “central issue” of corruption.
In a press release, the government also denied any links between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Nripendra Mishra to “one of the accused” in the helicopter deal.
“In the matter pertaining to acquisition of AgustaWestland helicopters, the undisputed central issue that stands out is corruption, especially bribery. Any other line of assumption, approach and effort, as is being attempted in some quarters, is misleading, tries to hide the wrong-doers and is driven by instincts of self preservation,” said the release.
The press release did not specify whose allegations it was responding to but on Wednesday, the official website of the Congress had posted a detailed criticism of the government’s probe in the deal, including a set of 10 questions. One of them was: “Did Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi ever offer to cut a deal in Italian Marines case with a view to perpetuate a conspiracy against Congress leadership?”
The government stated: “Those who cannot see Prime Minister succeed even hint at him cutting a deal. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Prime Minister Modi did not cut any deal of any sort. His only goal and priority is the development of comprehensive national power, and empowerment of our masses.”
The Congress had also sought to link former Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi, who has been accused by an Italian court of having met several AW officials along with his cousins, with the Vivekananda International Foundation with which Doval and Mishra were associated.
The government stated: “A few have even sought to link one of the accused with Ajit Doval, present NSA, as also Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. This is a totally baseless assertion, devoid of reason and logic, and indicative of malicious intent. In reality, there is no such connection.”
The statement said: “It is indeed tragic that a small section of the Indian polity has attempted, unsuccessfully, to divert and diffuse the public discourse on this matter. They question the speed of the government processes, especially the investigation. But, they do not ask how the corrupt influenced the process of acquisition in the first place and bled the nation. They do not admit corruption; they instead boldly proclaim, “catch us if you can”.”
The government added that its investigative agencies “remain determined to bring to justice the key perpetrators of this misdeed, both inside and outside the country”.
On Opposition allegations about AW helicopters purchased by the BJP-ruled governments of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the statement said the Centre has been proactive in seeking response and that the charges were addressed at the state level.
“The government appeals to the countrymen to recognise the nature and depth of corruption in AgustaWestland case. The investigative agencies will stay their course in unveiling the corrupt and holding them accountable to our public,” it said.
”On the core issue of corruption, the timeline of actions taken by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate clearly shows due rigour and diligence with which these agencies have pursued all aspects of their investigations, including the arrest and extradition of three foreign nationals namely Carlo Gerosa, Guido Haschke Ralph and Christian Michel James,” it said. All were listed as middlemen in the deal by Italian prosecutors.
”The government has acted proactively and with alacrity against Agusta Westland International and Finmeccanica. It is the present government which through its order dated 3 July 2014, put on hold all procurement/acquisition cases in the pipeline of six companies figuring in the FIR registered by the CBI, namely: M/S Agusta Westland International Ltd., UK, M/S Finmeccanica, Italy, and its group companies, including subsidiaries and affiliates, M/S IDS, Tunisia, M/S Infotech Design System (IDS), Mauritius, M/S IDS Infotech Ltd, Mohali and M/S Aeromatrix Info Solution Pvt Ltd, Chandigarh.”
It added: “In doing so, we did not let the preparedness of our defence forces suffer. At the same time, we also ensured that no new capital procurement was made thereafter from these companies in the tenure of the present government.”
It stated: “The factually misinformed have also made a mention regarding clearance of a joint venture involving Agusta Westland by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board. This proposal was approved on 2nd September 2011 based on an application by Indian Rotorcraft Ltd a joint venture of Tata Sons with Agusta Westland NV, Netherlands. This was later changed to Agusta Westland S.p.A Italy due to reorganization within the group. On 7th February 2012, an industrial licence for the manufacture of helicopters was granted by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion to Indian Rotorcraft Ltd. However, the validity of licence has since expired.”
Incidentally, The Indian Express had reported on Friday that AgustaWestland had obtained approval to start a facility called Indian Rotorcraft Ltd (IRL) for assembly of AW-199Kx helicopters in Hyderabad Aviation SEZ in a joint venture with Tata Aerospace.
IRL had confirmed in writing to The Indian Express that its “original plan was to assemble the AW119Ke helicopters. However, the model subsequently got upgraded to the AW119Kx helicopters. Regulations required that this change in model also be approved by the FIPB, which the FIPB did on September 2013. In October 2015, IRL also received FIPB’s approval for an assembly unit.”
The Joint Venture had also stated that “industrial licence which was issued in 2012 for 2 years has expired and the company has already reapplied for it. IRL will export the assembled helicopters to AW for it to sell to its customers.”
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