As the government announced Thursday that India has approached the British government for extradition of James Christian Michel, an alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal, a senior NDA minister said “everything will be done to ensure that the guilty are brought to book… it is going to the doors of Congress bigwigs”.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Communications & Information Technology, told The Indian Express that the previous UPA government “has a lot to explain about its conduct” after irregularities in the helicopter deal came to light.
“On February 12, 2013, the CBI registers a PE (preliminary enquiry) and this Christian Michel, who was in India then and whose father is an old India hand and was a frequent visitor to India’s power circuit, left the country the next day. This is not a coincidence. That is what I am saying.”
Asked if he was suggesting that the UPA had a hand in letting Michel leave India, Prasad said he was only trying to put things in “perspective”. “Because I am recalling how Mr Quattrocchi (alleged middleman in the Bofors deal) suddenly left the country one fine morning… there was some adverse order by the court,” he said.
“This judgment of the appellate court, which is equivalent to our High Court, has now come. It is confirming corruption, confirming payment of commission to Indian officials. And it has convicted Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland top officials for this. Therefore, if bribe-givers have been convicted, how can bribe-takers not be identified and punished. And it is going to the doors of Congress bigwigs. Their names are in the judgment and are in the public domain.”
“There can’t be any charge of any vendetta by us. We are pursuing the cases and everything will be done to ensure that the guilty are brought to book. The CBI will be doing its investigation fairly. In fact, now it is obligatory for us to conduct an expeditious investigation. We have the conviction order. Now the India segment of the probe has to be done quickly. We will have to see if certain documents have not been given, the order of the appellate court will have to be scrutinised.”
“A bizarre claim was made that they (Congress) sought to blacklist it (Finmeccanica). Why don’t they show the exact documents to prove their claim? I am given to understand that once the Defence Minister makes a statement in Parliament, things will be clear on this issue.”
He also pointed out that A K Antony, UPA’s Defence Minister, had told Parliament “corruption has taken place and bribes have been given”.
“Why were Mr M K Narayanan (UPA NSA) and Mr M K Wanchoo (then SPG chief), both appointed Governors, not allowed to be investigated until June 2014? It was done only after we came to power. This speaks volumes about the UPA. Why were arrest warrants not issued against Christian Michel?” Prasad said.
Asked if the government was planning to send a team to Italy to follow-up on the court order, he said, “That is for the CBI to decide. But this government will obviously not create obstacles in the conduct of fair investigation by the CBI or ED.”
But why didn’t the NDA government act on this issue for almost two years? “Action was going on. Interpol notices were being issued. But, don’t forget one thing, the Congress is completely wrong. There was judgment of acquittal by a lower court of Italy. Now, based upon the same evidence, the appellate court has ruled that this is a case of corruption and the entire manner in which corruption happened has been explained there. Therefore, now this case acquires a different focus,” Prasad said.
Asked if the government was worried that strong action in this case could lead to Parliament being stalled, he said, “Reaching out to the Opposition doesn’t mean condoning corruption. Why is it that the UPA regime witnessed a tirade of such corruption cases with alarming regularity? From 2G to Coalgate to this latest scam.”
What if a superior court in Italy acquits the convicted? “So what? It doesn’t change anything. Don’t forget that none other than the (former) Defence Minister (Antony) has acknowledged that corruption took place in this case. There are documents that speak for themselves. What happens there (Italy) will have no impact here. We have Indian laws to take care of,” he said.
On Thursday, talk swirled that the government may offer constitution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the helicopter deal but given the bitter divide between the BJP and Congress, the jury is still out on that. In February 2013, the then UPA government brought in a motion in Rajya Sabha for a JPC probe. The motion was passed after a walkout by the BJP and other parties in the Opposition which wanted a Supreme Court-monitored investigation.