BJP continues to target Sonia, Congress hits back

BJP continues to target Sonia, Congress hits back

BJP continues to target Sonia, Congress hits back
Congress President Sonia Gandhi today continued to be the target of BJP when its chief Amit Shah asked her to name the beneficiaries of bribes in the AugustaWestand chopper deal but the party hit back saying it was for the investigating agencies to bring out the names.

On its part, the government promised to leave no stone unturned to bring to justice the corrupt and wrong doers.

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".

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.

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 and they should bring out the truth. It should be disclosed before the people of the country," he said.

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.

Asked whether he took any bribes, he 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." 

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.

The  statement said companies are Agusta Westland International Ltd, Finmeccanica, Italy and its group of companies, including subsidiaries and affiliates, IDS, Tunisia, Infotech Design System (IDS), Mauritius, IDS Infotech Ltd, Mohali and Aeromatrix Info Solution Pvt Ltd., Chandigarh.

Referring to Congress allegation that the NDA gave clearance to a joint venture involving AgustaWestland through the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, the Ministry said this proposal was approved on September 2, 2011 based on an application by Indian Rotorcraft Ltd, a joint venture of Tata Sons with AgustaWestland NV, Netherlands.

"This was later changed to AgustaWestland S.p.A, Italy due to re-organisation within the group. On February 7, 2012, an industrial licence for the manufacture of helicopters was granted by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion to Indian Rotorcraft Ltd. However, the validity of the licence has since expired," it said.

Speaking about the "core issue of corruption", the Ministry said the two concerned agencies, namely CBI and Enforcement Directorate, are vigorously pursuing all aspects of the investigation, including the arrests and/or extradition of the three foreign nationals.

"Red Corner Notices were issued in December 2015 and January 2016 through Interpol under Prevention of Money Laundering Act and Prevention of Corruption Act. Extradition request has also been made for Christian Michel James. One of the agencies (Enforcement Directorate) has arrested an Indian national and attached approximately Rs 11 crore of property belonging to Indian nationals and to Christian Michel James," it said.

Congress had on Monday claimed that AgustaWestland was blacklisted under UPA rule but "removed" from the blacklist by the Modi government.

Congress leader and former Union Minister Anand Sharma had said, "The chopper deal was scrapped. Action was taken by the UPA government. AK Antony, the then Defence Minister, had made a statement in Parliament and AgustaWestland was blacklisted." 

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