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AugustaWestland scam: BJP continues to target Sonia Gandhi, Congress hits back

PTI 29 Apr 2016, 13:47:48 IST

New Delhi: BJP yet again targeted Sonia Gandhi today asking her to name the bribe takers in the Rs.3,600 core chopper deal but Congress hit back saying Amit Shah's demand was a "no confidence vote" in the Modi government which has "failed" in its job in last two years.

As the Congress said it was for the investigating agencies to bring out the names of bribe takers, the government came out with a statement that it will leave no stone unturned to bring to justice the corrupt and wrong doers.

As political temperatures continued to rise, Shah made a statement to the media taking a dig at Gandhi over her statement yesterday that she was not afraid of being cornered in the controversial deal.

"She is right and that is why such scams keeping come out in the open. That is why when the National Herald corruption case happens, you say you do not fear anybody. When AugustaWestland case occurs, you say you do not fear anybody. I want to tell her that we in Bharatiya Janata Party are afraid of the Constitution, rules and public norms," he said.

Shah said Gandhi should come out of "this mindset" and make it clear before the people that when it had been proved by an Italian court that bribe was given, then who received the money, who are responsible."

"All I want to ask her is that those who gave the bribe are in jail in Italy. Then where are those who received the kickbacks? Who were in power at that time. They are responsible (for the scam) and they should bring out the truth. It should be disclosed before the people of the country," he said.

Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel, one of those whose names is believed to have been mentioned in the Italian High Court judgement in the case, said, "There is no question of bribe taking by the political leadership of the Congress Party and allegations against them are baseless".

Gandhi had yesterday rejected as "baseless" allegations linking her and the party leaders to bribes in the chopper deal and called them an attempt at character assassination. Asked about Shah's statement asking Gandhi to name the bribe takers, Patel retorted, "They (BJP) are in power for the last two years. They should find out. They are asking us."

To a question as to who took the bribes, he said, "It is for the investigating agencies to find out."

About Shah's dig at Gandhi's comment that she was not afraid of anyone, Patel said they were wrongly interpreting what she said.

"Like Mrs Indira Gandhi, she said they (Gandhi family) was facing baseless allegations and that she was not afraid of anybody making baseless allegations," he said. Asked whether he took any bribes, Patel said "absolutely no, a big no. Never in my life I have taken money. I can't even pronounce these names (of middlemen). I first read about them in the media."

Miffed at the attack on Gandhi, the Congress said the failure to nab the culprits in the scam in the last two years showed how "incompetent" the Modi dispensation is.

Seeking to downplay the names of Congress leaders being allegedly involved in the scam, the party reminded the BJP that two decades ago, the Hawala case against BJP veteran L K Advani was quashed by the Supreme Court despite his name appearing in the Jain diaries.

BJP ‘completely misleading’, alleges Congress

"Are we living in a banana republic? Bribe has flown, so senior most person is guilty? " Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi wondered at the AICC briefing close on the heels of Shah's attack on Gandhi.

Insisting that the BJP was "completely misleading" in the matter, he said that the ruling party was "too clever by half" and deserved to apologise to the nation for the "irresponsible" allegations.

"Shah as President of the BJP is expected to be more responsible. It is a vote of no confidence by the President of BJP in his own government" as it has failed to come out with any concrete finding in the probe in the last 24 months, Singhvi said.

When asked about a question about Ahmed Patel, Singhvi said, "There could be 20 APs in Somalia, Italy and France" saying it was "not even an allegation" as these are "unverified notings".

Singhvi claimed that the whole thing is that the government and the BJP "wants to keep the pot boiling" and that is why a Rajya Sabha seat has been given to Subramanian Swamy, who is known as a "Gandhi basher".

Singhvi also spoke in similar vein on the BJP attack on former Finance Minister P Chidambaram in the Aircel-Maxis case in the Lok Sabha yesterday.

"It is a Goebbelsian technique. First there is a leak from department concerned and then friendly newspaper publishing it", he said.

He claimed that the main aim is sensationalism, allow the pot boiling and does not allow completion of a probe so that the real culprit goes away.

Corruption the core issue: Defence Ministry

Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry issued a statement asserting that the core issue in the scam was corruption government will leave no stone unturned in pursuing all means to bring to justice the corrupt and the wrong-doers in this case.

Refuting the Congress' claims that the Ango-Italian helicopter make AgustaWestland was blacklisted by the UPA government, the ministry said it was the NDA, on July 3, 2014, that had actually put on hold all procurement and acquisition cases in the pipeline of six companies involved in the VVIP chopper scam.

It also said that CBI and Enforcement Directorate are vigorously pursuing all aspects of the investigation, including the arrests and extradition of three alleged middlemen of the deal - Carlo Gerosa, Guido Haschke Ralph and Christian Michel James.

"Publicly available information on the procurement of Agusta Westland helicopters clearly shows that the core issue in the matter is corruption. The present Government has taken effective action to bring out the truth and will leave no stone unturned in pursuing all means to bring to justice the corrupt and the wrong-doers in this case," the ministry statement said.

It said the time taken is largely because some of the key perpetrators of this "misdeed" are outside the country. The ministry said in certain quarters, questions have been raised on certain trivial technicalities, which appear to be intended to distract attention from the core issue of corruption.

It said that the contract for supply of 12 helicopters signed with Agusta Westland International Ltd (AWIL) on February 8, 2010 was terminated with effect from January 1,2014.

"The main reason was breach of the provisions of the Pre-Contract Integrity Pact and breach of terms of contract by AWIL. However, the company was not debarred by the said order. Various bonds and bank guarantees were invoked. It is the present Government which through its order dated July 3, 2014, put on hold all procurement/acquisition cases in the pipeline of six companies figuring in the FIR registered by the CBI. No new capital procurement has been made thereafter from these companies in the tenure of the present Government," the Defence Ministry statement said.