We are ready to face Parliament on chopper scam: Antony

Bracing to face opposition heat over chopper scam in Parliament, Defence Minister A K Antony today said government has "nothing to hide" and is prepared for a discussion even as he played down reports of his resignation.

"I will do my duty. I am now getting ready for the Parliament session. We will explain everything to Parliament. We have nothing to hide. Our hands are very clean," Antony told reporters on being asked whether he would resign.

Reacting to BJP’s allegations that the Defence Ministry was "sleeping" over the reports of corruption in the Rs 3,600 crore deal for 12 VVIP choppers, he said, "I cannot wake up anybody who is sleeping".

The Defence Ministry had started taking action on the issue from day one when first media reports in this regard came in, Antony said.

Addressing a press conference at a BrahMos Aerospace function, he said there were no differences between different ministries on the process to scrap the deal and the whole Government was working together.

Antony said he was "sad and upset" over the controversy which had erupted despite all precautions having been taken. "Now we are preparing to face Parliament."
The Minister was asked if he was sad over the whole episode and was resigning on the issue taking a high moral ground.

Antony said he was upset over the alleged scam as despite blacklisting six firms in one scam for which he was accused of slowing down modernisation, such an incident has happened as "there was no end to human greed and still greedy people were working around the world."

Antony said in the procurement process for the AgustaWestland choppers, all wings of the Government including the Ministry, IAF and SPG had "followed all the procedures. In spite of that one thing is clear that something happened somewhere."

"It is the decision of the government that we must get to the root of the controversy to find out the truth and must find out the culprits. And whosoever is responsible, must be brought to justice at the earliest and then ensure maximum punishment. It is the resolve of the entire government," he said.

Asked about the reason for the Government to take a series of actions in the last one week after it waited for one year for details from Italy and the UK, the Defence Minister said, "When the report came that the CEO of the company (Finmeccanica) was arrested, we decided to refer the matter to the CBI."

Last Tuesday, Finmeccanica CEO Giueseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini were arrested by Italian investigators in connection with the alleged scam in which Rs 362 crore have been allegedly paid as kickbacks.

The Minister said he has taken a series of actions including referring the matter to the CBI, suspending the deal and payments for it after the reports of the arrest came in.

"We have now taken action for the cancellation of the contract for which we have given a show cause notice and we are waiting for the reply (from Italy). We are also awaiting the return of our official and the CBI team. We will proceed as per law but we will not show any mercy towards anyone," he said.

The Minister said efforts were on to get reports from the Italian courts conducting the inquiry into the alleged chopper scam and the Italian government.

On suggestions of differences between the Defence Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office on the deal issue, Antony said, "At the moment, the Defence Ministry is mainly handling it. At the same time, whenever we needed, we sought the support of the MEA and we got it. There is no question of any lack of coordination."

On BJP’s allegations of inaction for one year, Antony said last year his Ministry had received complaints about malpractices in defence deals and it had forwarded them to the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI after which "that man" (arms dealer Abhishek Verma) is in jail.

The Ministry had forwarded the complaints by Verma’s former associate Edmond Allen for allegedly taking bribes to get the name of a German defence firm cleared from Ministry’s blacklist.

To a question that British embassy officials had tried to push the chopper deal in 2010, Antony said the Indian system was different where the Government did not push for business for private companies but in some countries, their Governments push their case.
"We always tell them that there is no political interference in our procurement procedure where top quality and cheapest items are procured," he said.

Asked if the Government will have a relook at the Rafale deal also as alleged middleman Guido Haschke was working for Dassault Aviation for the sale of 10 Mirage 2000 aircraft to India, Antony said, "This is too early. At the moment, only contract negotiations are going on. After that there are six seven layers more for it to go."

"Unless we get some concrete evidence, how can we. We are trying to get to the truth. I told you that we are very clear that if in any deal, any foul play is found, we will take action," he said.

He said in the case, before the CBI inquiry or other inquiries are over, "how I can say that this man or that man is guilty. But one thing I can assure you is that nobody will be spared."The Defence Minister said the government takes action on all the complaints received by it.

"Our government, whenever we are getting any complaint, we do not throw in dustbin, we act on it. That is why, any stage of procurement, if there is any malpractice, we will go to any extent. There will be no compromise on transparency," he said.

Antony cautioned the media against casting doubts on all the defence deals, saying, "My request is that security situation around us is very volatile. We have to strengthen our armed forces. So, don't try to cloud everything."

He said if there are any specific case, the Defence Ministry, the CBI and the judiciary are there to take action.

To a query on the handing over of the Gwadar port by Pakistan to China, Antony said, "It is a matter of concern to us."

Pakistan has formally handed over the Gwadar port to China for its development after taking it back from a Singaporean firm.

Experts feel the presence of Chinese on the port is part of a Chinese strategy to surround India from all sides.

On the possibility of exporting BrahMos cruise missile to countries such as Vietnam, Antony said the weapon system is in heavy demand among the armed forces in the country and after meeting domestic requirements, such a proposition can be explored.

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