As the Rajya Sabha takes up a short-duration discussion on the “allegations of bribery and corruption in AgustaWestland chopper deal” on Friday, it is worth recalling the positions taken by the BJP and Congress during a debate on the issue on February 27, 2013.
The then Defence Minister A K Antony was satisfied with the CBI investigation and had faith in the Italian judicial system. The then Leader of Opposition in the Upper House, Arun Jaitley, wanted registration of the case, followed by extradition of people from Italy, custodial interrogation and raids. The UPA regime went in for a JPC to probe the deal even as the BJP and its allies walked out to oppose a motion moved by the then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath to set up the probe panel.
Here are some excerpts from the debate:
Antony: “Many friends reported a news item that appeared in The Indian Express Delhi edition on 24th February, 2012, about the Indian chopper deal. What have we done? News item appeared on 24th February…, the MoD requested our ambassador at Rome on 25th February, within one day, within 24 hours, to send us the factual report. They have started their inquiry. Our ambassador then informed their counterpart — the Government of Italy. From that day onwards, the MoD has correspondence with the Italian Government and the UK Government. It is because, even though the company is owned by Italy, our contract is with M/s AugustaWestland, UK”.
“…The secret inquiry is at the fag end. The CBI started the preliminary inquiry. In addition to these two inquiries, if the honourable members feel that one more inquiry is needed, the government is willing to have an inquiry consisting of all political parties’ representatives from this side and that side. We are also willing to accept a JPC
Jaitley: “…It is your responsibility, Mr Defence Minister, to identify who the bribe-taker is. Therefore, in this entire statement, please don’t pass the buck to the Italians and say ‘I am helpless, because the Italians are not cooperating with me’.”
“…The Indian Express informed you on 24th of February, 2012, that this is a transaction where bribes have been paid. How do you get the details of a transaction? Not merely by writing a letter… Immediately, on the 24th February, 2012, you had to register an FIR. The first step in a criminal case is, register an FIR. You don’t register an FIR. The principle of international cooperation is that two conditions have to be satisfied. No country co-operates with you till those two conditions are satisfied. One, that there must be a case under investigation in India; two, that it must operate on the principle of dual criminality that since it is an offence in our country, it is an offence in the co-operating country. Obviously, bribery is an offence in India. By writing administrative letters to your ambassador — and he is making diplomatic requests — you don’t get the details. What would you have done?
“…Take people into custody, register a case. Once you have a chargesheet ready, ask for extradition. The Italians may not oblige you by handing their citizens over. You have to send a letter rogatory to them. You can’t send a letter rogatory even under Indian law till you have a case under investigation. A preliminary enquiry is not a case under investigation, and now you are creating this entire facade of the JPC… Are you willing to have a JPC headed by an Opposition member? If you want to know the truth, please ask the
Antony: “…The result of the Italian inquiry will come out soon, in a few months. So nobody would escape from the Italian inquiry. Even the Leader of the Opposition would believe in the sanctity of the Italian judiciary.”
The discussion over, the then Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Kamal Nath moved a motion for the constitution of a JPC to probe the deal. Jaitley opposed the motion. He argued: “…What you need for an honest pursuit of the truth is a proper case under investigation. You need to extradite people. You need custodial interrogation of people. You need to search people… The JPC has none of these powers…The JPC will be an exercise in futility and therefore, this government, which has not followed the correct legal procedures, is going in for diversionary tactics.”
Over to the BJP and the Congress, with their roles reversed.