'Invisible hand' in copter scam probe, says Parrikar

'Invisible hand' in copter scam probe, says Parrikar

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Wednesday that there was an “invisible hand” behind the “inaction” of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate probing the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scam.

He also said the ongoing probe by the NDA government would include those who were named by the Italian court which found evidence of corruption in the deal.

“Not only there was a litany of omission and commission at various stages in the decision making process to favour this company, but even during the investigation an invisible hand was guiding the action and inaction of the CBI and ED,” the minister said.

“The country wants to know who instigated, supported and benefited from corruption. We can’t let this pass,” Parrikar said responding to a short duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the choppergate, which rocked the House since the Italian court ruling came out last month.

The first information report filed by the CBI in the case was not forwarded to the ED for 9 months. And even after it was forwarded to the ED in December 2013, the ED did not act on it till July 2014 – 3 months after the NDA government came to the power.

“A comprehensive enquiry has now been initiated. No stones would be unturned to try those who acted against national interest. The inquiry will focus on those who were named in the judgment of the Italian court,” he said even as Congress leaders continued to interrupt his speech.

Congress leaders, including former defence minister A K Antony, demanded a speedy probe to identify those involved in corruption and punish the guilty. “But don’t threaten or blackmail us,” he said.

He also suggested blacklisting the tainted company.

Congress leaders also accepted the demand of other opposition parties to allow the Supreme Court to monitor the probe. However, the government did not make any commitment on this.  After Parrikar's reply, Congress staged a walk out saying his speech had lowered the dignity of the House. The Rs 3,727-crore deal to purchase 12 AW-101 choppers from AgustaWestland was signed in 2010 and cancelled in 2014 after allegations of corruption surfaced.

Quoting one paragraph from an official file that contains details of the IAF trial report on the first three AW-101 helicopters that were received between November 2012 and February 2013, Parrikar said they would not be able to carry anyone to Gulmarg or Pahelgam in Jammu and Kashmir.

The report stated that the helicopters could not carry the VVIPs to Gulmarg (8600 ft) or Pahelgam (almost 9000 ft) and at Srinagar at an altitude of 5400 feet, the effective payload weight was nil. In comparison, the IAF’s Mi-17 choppers, currently used for VIP flights, could do the job.

The minister said this was the only file on the AW-101 trial by the IAF that survived in a mysterious fire in June 2014.

 

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