BJP guns for Sonia, asks Cong to name bribe-takers
The ongoing tussle between the BJP and Congress in the Parliament is set to escalate further as BJP has decided to name Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the House for her alleged involvement in Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal. The deal was signed in 2010, when UPA was in power.
The decision, which is seen as a part of an all-out offensive to corner Congress, has been taken after an Italian court’s order reportedly accused the UPA government of not sharing critical documents with investigators. The Italian court investigating the role of officials of defence manufacturer Finmeccanica – Agusta’s parent company –in bribing politicians and officers in India has cited documents that name “Signora Gandhi”.
The order says there is “reasonable belief” that corruption took place in India’s deal in 2010 with Italy-based defence manufacturer Finmeccannica for 12 choppers to be used by top leaders, including the Prime Minister.
The BJP questioned the Congress and former Defence Minister AK Antony that the bribe givers have been convicted and what about the bribe takers. Talking to reporters, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “In March 2013, Antony himself had accepted bribe was taken in the deal. The former Defence Minister must come out clean whether any Congress leader was involved in it or not.” Prasad also accused the UPA government of delaying the probe into the matter.
In its 225-page order, the Court of Appeals, Milan, detailed at length its grounds for conviction. At one point, it observed: “This showing (of) a substantial disregard to arrive at a full explanation of facts (was) effectively demonstrated by the procedural behaviour of the Indian Ministry of Defence.”
The Italian court — equivalent to an Indian High Court — further speculated whether this may be connected to a handwritten note recovered in March 2013 from former Finmeccanica head Giuseppe Orsi’s prison cell. “Call Monti or amb. Teracciano in my name to ask him to call the PM Singh,” the note said. The Italian court also said that a March 2008 letter from the main middleman in the scandal, Christian Michel, to Peter Hulet, the India head of AgustaWestland, describes “Signora Gandhi” as “the driving force behind VIP helicopters”.
Manmohan Singh is mentioned in a 2013 letter by Guiseppe Orsi, former Agusta CEO, from jail. The letter said that the Italian PM or a senior diplomat should call the former PM. A letter between two middlemen refers to alleged bribes to be paid to Air Force officers, bureaucrats and politicians. The initials “AP” and “fam” – are believed by investigators to refer to Sonia Gandhi’s aide Ahmad Patel and the family of former Air Force Chief SP Tyagi.
The ruling BJP, which has been under attack over controversies linked to Uttarakhand and foreign policy, on Tuesday discussed its Parliament strategy on the chopper scam at a weekly meeting of lawmakers attended by PM Modi.
On the other hand rejecting the allegations, Congress leader Anand Sharma said, “The BJP government unleashed a vicious propaganda on an agreement signed between government and AgustaWestland. They have alleged corruption and kickbacks. We categorically reject these allegations.”