The political firestorm over alleged payoffs in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal intensified Wednesday when Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar targeted the Congress leadership, saying “it appears that an invincible hand was guiding the action or inaction of CBI and ED… the country wants to know who instigated, who supported and who benefited from the corruption… we cannot let this pass”.
An angry Congress, which repeatedly clashed with the ruling party during a short-duration discussion in Rajya Sabha on the helicopter deal, later staged a walkout after its demand for a Supreme Court-monitored probe was rejected by the government.
A K Antony, who was the UPA Defence Minister, took on the government saying “complete the cases, blacklist the company, take strongest action against whoever has taken money… if you have evidence, take action, prosecute, but don’t threaten us”.
He said he had immediately acted after allegations of corruption surfaced in 2012. He also claimed it was the Vajpayee government which had taken all “major” decisions, including those on the parameters of cabin height and flying altitude of the helicopters.
Replying to the discussion, Parrikar said: “A litany of omissions and commissions at various stages of the decision-making process indicates mala fide and corrupt actions, driven by the goal to favour a particular vendor… the Italy court has said there are omissions in various stages of decision-making. The fact that corruption has occurred has been brought out in extensive details in the recent judgment of the Italy court.”
“As far as the investigation by the CBI and ED is concerned, it is strange that the CBI which registered an FIR in the matter on 12th March, 2013, based on the reference made by the Ministry of Defence on 12th February, 2013, did not bother to forward a copy of the FIR to Enforcement Directorate for nine months… Even more strangely, the Enforcement Directorate did not act on the FIR until July 2014 (after the exit of the UPA),” he said.
Earlier, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy demanded recording of a statement from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This time, he did not name Sonia Gandhi but his remarks alluding to the Congress leadership drew repeated protests from the main Opposition party.
Ahmed Patel of the Congress, who finds himself at the centre of the row because of the initials ‘AP’ on a hand-written note cited in the Milan court judgment, also sought a probe. He declared he would quit Rajya Sabha and public life if any wrongdoing on his part was established.
Objecting to Parrikar reading from a prepared statement in his reply, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said this was an “insult” and the minister’s reply contained only allegations. When other Congress members too objected, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said a minister had the right to read from a prepared text.
Reiterating that the government will “leave no stone unturned” to bring the corrupt to justice, Parrikar said the CBI is already on a money trail and they are tracing “where has the money gone”.