UPA Presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee's march towards Rashtrapati Bhavan came under attack on Monday with India Against Corruption demanding an investigation of three cases in which, it says, the Finance Minister faces corruption allegations.
IAC member Arvind Kejriwal told journalists here that Mr. Mukherjee's possible elevation would grant him immunity from criminal investigation, and therefore ought to be preceded by a full investigation.
Mr. Mukherjee’s office, however, responded with a strongly worded letter, saying the allegations were “false, unfair, self-seeking, motivated, mala fide, [and] made with ulterior motive.” It also said IAC had suppressed the fact that a public interest litigation was already pending in the Delhi High Court on these issues.
The IAC allegations include a June 2011 letter by K.M. Abraham, former member of the Board of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; corruption in the purchase of Scorpene submarines from France; fraud in the sale of rice to Ghana in 2008; and the Navy War Room leak case.
Investigators say the allegations about the Scorpene deal were made on the basis of forged documents, and there are no criminal proceedings yet under way in the alleged rice fraud. The third allegation, however, is connected to an ongoing case with potentially far-reaching national security consequences — the leak of top-secret documents on planned Navy acquisitions.
In a February 12, 2006 interview with television show host Karan Thapar, Mr. Mukherjee — then Defence Minister — appeared to suggest that influential businessmen now alleged to be involved in the Naval War Room case were innocent of any crime. Asked why the businessmen were not being proceeded against, Mr. Mukherjee said the leak involved only “commercial information,” rather than information of strategic value.
“Leakage of every official secret does not mean treason,” an irate Mr. Mukherjee said in the interview. “People want to have commercial information.”
The other businessmen charged under the Official Secrets Act are Kulbhushan Parashar, vice-president of Atlas Defence Systems, and Ravi Shankaran, against whom the CBI approached a United Kingdom court seeking his extradition. The next court hearing in the matter falls in October. Mr. Shankaran is related to the former Navy Chief, Admiral Arun Prakash.
However, soon after the interview went on air, the Central Bureau of Investigation registered a case under the Official Secrets Act against businessman Abhishek Verma and others. The CBI's October 2006 charge sheet alleges that Mr. Verma engaged in a criminal conspiracy to obtain documents and information which, prosecutors say, affect the sovereignty and integrity of India. In the interview, Mr. Mukherjee also said Admiral Arun Prakash had offered his resignation.
It remains unclear whether Mr. Mukherjee made his claims on the basis of information provided by the Defence Ministry or the Naval chief. CBI sources said there was also no evidence to suggest that Mr. Mukherjee had attempted to stonewall the investigation.
Mr. Mukherjee's office said the IAC failed to disclose that it had moved the Delhi High Court on these issues, after an earlier petition filed before the Supreme Court was withdrawn. IAC member Prashant Bhushan has represented the organisation in the case. The letter alleges that Mr. Kejriwal was seeking to press issues on a public forum after failing in court.
The letter also denies any wrongdoing on Mr. Mukherjee's part. “An enquiry held in May 2005 at the Air Headquarters based on the pen drive recovered from Lt. (retired) Kulbhushan Parashar culminated in a full investigation, which pointed towards the involvement of some persons in leakage of information of commercial value. The inquiry did not reveal any linkage whatsoever with the Scorpene project. As far as the leakage of information was concerned, the law took its course,” said the reply.
The letter despatched by Mr. Mukherjee's office on Sunday, which Team Anna said was received on Monday, is drafted in the form of a reply to a complaint addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by IAC on May 26, 2012.