The Opposition has criticised the government for the delay in ordering an inquiry into the charges of bribery in the Rs. 3,600-crore helicopter deal with Italian defence group Finmeccanica SpA, whose head was arrested in Milan on Monday as part of a probe into international corruption.
While the BJP asked the government to review it and suspend fresh supply of helicopters, the Left demanded that the deal be scrapped.
Describing the deal as one having the “makings of a second Bofors scam,” BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said the inexplicable delay on the part of Defence Minister A.K. Antony in ordering a probe suggested that someone was trying to shield someone.
He said the BJP would raise the issue in and outside Parliament and seek an explanation from the Prime Minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Antony. “This deal raises a serious question. There was one gentleman Ottavio Quattrochhi from Italy, who was involved in the Bofors scam. Several attempts were made to protect him. This helicopter company is also from Italy. Was this a factor in no probe being done… for the past one year,” he asked.
Mr. Prasad argued that the government should have summoned the Italian Ambassador to discuss the reports of financial irregularities in the 2010 contract to buy 12 helicopters from AugustaWestland, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica. “Why did not Antony write to the Italian Defence Minister or send a delegation to Italy to get more details?”
The BJP alleged that Mr. Antony had made an incorrect statement in Parliament: answering a question from BJP MP Prakash Javadekar, he had said that at the request of his Ministry, the External Affairs Ministry had taken up the matter with the Italian and U.K. governments to get further details.
On the statement made by the former Air Chief, S.P. Tyagi, that the controversial changes in the deal were made during the NDA regime, Mr. Prasad said: “Mr. Tyagi’s comments should be taken with a pinch of salt. His role should be probed. His relatives are reported to be involved.”
Demanding that the contract be scrapped, the CPI(M) Polit Bureau said it would seek the government’s response in the budget session of Parliament.
“The contract… should be cancelled. The CBI investigations should be supervised by the Supreme Court and only then will the people have the confidence that we will get to the bottom of this affair. It is clear that the UPA government has failed to check high-level corruption in defence contracts in the past eight years of its tenure. The helicopter deal is the latest,” the party said in a statement.
CPI secretary D. Raja wanted the contract scrapped, pointing out that Mr. Antony had himself said companies were liable to be prosecuted and blacklisted for lapses.