Deeper conspiracy in Aero India's bribe-for-display case?

French firm Dassault figures in complaint against IAF officer

Investigations by Deccan Herald indicate that the name of P V Rao, a representative of French Dassault Systemes, manufacturer of the Rafael fighter aircraft, which is one of the planes being considered by the Indian establishment for the MMRCA, emerged in the bribes-for-display scandal involving Wing Commander A K Thakur against whom the IAF has initiated a Court of Inquiry (CoI) here.

Wg Cdr Thakur allegedly took Rs 20,000 from Rao to give the Rafael a favourable position on the static display area at Yelahanka airbase where the Aero India 2011 show was conducted. When contacted, Rao said: “An inquiry is on and I will make no comments at this point. Let the inquiry be over and only then will I make any comment.”

According to top defence sources familiar with the complaint against Wg Cdr Thakur, neither Rao nor any other Dassault representative complained against the errant officer either with the IAF top brass in Delhi or in Bangalore.

The sources said senior IAF officers in Yelahanka received a "verbal" complaint from an official of the Department of Defence Production and Supplies, saying that Wg Cdr Thakur had taken a bribe of Rs 20,000 from Rao. Incidentally, officials belonging to the Defence Exhibitions Organisation (DEO), which is under the Department of Defence Production and Supplies, had set the trap on Wg Cdr Thakur, as reported by Deccan Herald on March 6.

In this context sources said that Wg Cdr Thakur could only have come under the scanner if had taken bribes in the days before he was actually caught. "There are blacksheep in every organisation. The sources said that Wg Cdr was not senior enough in the hierarchy to make any huge difference to foreign vendors at the static display area. Besides, they said, decisions on placement of individual vendors would have been taken by the MoD at least a month in advance. However, due action in accordance with the IAF's procedures are on and he will be punished if there is sufficient evidence against him," a top defence official requesting anonymity told Deccan Herald.

On the day the complaint was lodged against Wg Cdr Thakur by the Assistant Provost Marshal, a joint secretary rank officer of the Department of Defence Production and Supplies, Satyajeet Rajan, was present. When Deccan Herald asked department's secretary Raj Kumar Singh whether Wg Cdr Thakur was a victim of a more sinister move, he refused to comment, saying only that the MoD spokesman would respond to all queries. The New Delhi-based spokesman, when contacted over phone, said he has "not been given a brief" by the ministry on this issue.

However, knowledgeable sources in the MoD suspect while Wg Cdr Thakur did accept the bribe, there could be a move afoot to push the French company out of the race by throwing in its name in the scandal that has hit the IAF and thereby scuttle its chances of bagging the ambitious multi-billion dollar contract that six foreign companies are vying for.

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