Name leaders who received Rs 125cr kickbacks: BJP targets Sonia Gandhi in VVIP chopper scam
New Delhi: The conviction of the Italian officials related to the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam has given fresh ammunition to the BJP which is under fire in Parliament over the imposition of President’s rule in Uttarakhand and the JNU row.
Now, the BJP is planning a major offensive against the Congress and its party president Sonia Gandhi over the deal in UPA’s tenure. The party's fresh recruit in the Rajya Sabha as a nominated member Subramaniam Swamy will rake up the issue in the Upper House and a notice to this effect has already been given.
The BJP top brass went into a huddle after the Milan court's decision to chalk out further strategy on cornering the Congress over the Rs 3,600 crore deal. The issue also figured at the party's meeting in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP today sought the names of bribe-takers after those who gave the bribe were convicted by an Italian court. Addressing a press conference, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Antony had in March 2013 said corruption had taken places in the purchase of VVIP choppers and that bribe had been taken. He asked Antony to come clean on it.
"Bribe-givers have been convicted. Why are bribe-takers silent? Antony should answer if leaders of Congress are involved in it or not. Are they from your party or not? Please come out clean," he said.
Quoting from the Italian court's order Prasad said, "There was reasonable belief that corruption had taken place and it was validly proven that 10-15 million dollars made way to Indian officials".
Prasad accused the UPA government of stalling the CBI probe into the chopper scam, claiming that it did not let the investigation agency examine the then national security adviser M K Narayanan and SPG chief B V Wanchoo and that they were quizzed only after the NDA came to power.
The probe by the CBI and ED has now gathered pace, he said, adding that the secrecy clause, which prevented Italian prosecutors from sharing information with the CBI, is no longer relevant following the conviction.
The BJP is now geared to rake up the names of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh to corner the opposition party. The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Defence Ministry have asked Italy to provide a copy of a Milan court judgement that convicted Finmeccanica's former CEO Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland ex-head Bruno Spagnolini to jail for false accounting and corruption in the sale of the firm's 12 VVIP choppers to India.
According to sources, the documents related to the trial also contain the names of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.The documents -- mentioning 'Signora (Mrs) Gandhi' and Manmohan Singh - however do not contain any evidence on their involvement in the deal or any proof of receiving kickbacks.
Documents related to Orsi's trial show that while he was lodged in Busto Arsixio jail, custodial agents found in his cell, among other papers, a handwritten note, a copy of which was produced during the court proceedings.
The note read: "Call Monti, or amb. TERRACCIANO, in my name to ask him, to call the P.M. Singh."
While it is not clear as to what the note exactly referred to, it was interpreted that 'Monti' referred to former Italian prime minister Mario Monti, amb. TERRACCIANO was Pasquale Terracciano, who at the time was diplomatic adviser to the Italian prime minister, and PM Singh was identified as Manmohan Singh, the then prime minister of India.
The Italian court, however, observed it was in no position to determine what the message was.
Meanwhile, the CBI today said that it was awaiting the certified copy of AgustaWestland judgment and has written to the government seeking the original copy of the Italian court Judgment.
CBI sources said that the domestic part of the inquiry was over and the international probe was on. CBI has also sent eight Letters Rogatory to UAE , UK, Singapore, Switzerland, British Virgin Island, Italy, Tunisia and Mauritius and has sought details relating to the money trail, middlemen and the bribery details.
A letter dated March 15, 2008, seized by investigators and signed by alleged middleman Christian Michel, calls Sonia Gandhi the "driving force" behind the deal.
"Dear Peter, since Mrs Gandhi is the driving force behind VIP, will no longer fly in the MI-8. Mrs Gandhi and her closest advisers are the people who the British ambassador should target."
Former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi's name also finds mention in the documents for allegedly receiving kickbacks.
Three of the helicopters were delivered to the Indian Air Force before the contract -- signed in February 2010 -- was cancelled.
The IAF sought the AgustaWestland choppers as a replacement for its Mi-17 cargo helicopters that were modified for VVIP deployment.