Antony admits failure but blames Army Chief for not acting on graft charge
Even as Defence Minister A.K. Antony battled angry members of Parliament who said he was negligent in his handling of information that the Chief of the Army Staff was offered a Rs. 14 crore bribe, the Central Bureau of Investigation said it had received critical new evidence of the scandal.
Hours after Mr. Antony's testimony before Parliament, sources in the CBI said they received an audiotape purported to contain the conversation during which the bribe was offered, recorded inside General V.K. Singh's office. The CBI was inquiring into the authenticity of the tape, and would soon begin collecting relevant documents, the sources said.
Gen. Singh had told The Hindu, in an exclusive interview published on Monday, that he had informed Mr. Antony of the bribe offer, which is believed to have been made in return for the Army Chief clearing purchases of Tatra trucks.
Responding to vociferous Opposition demands for a statement, Mr. Antony said he had asked the Army Chief to take action against the individual who offered him the bribe — but that the General refused. “More than a year ago,” Mr. Antony said, “the Army Chief mentioned to me that one Lieutenant-General Tejinder Singh offered him a bribe. I was shocked and held my head in disbelief. I asked him to make a written complaint but he did not.”
However, Mr. Antony said, the Army Chief “did not want to pursue the matter.”
When Opposition members demanded to know why he did not act unilaterally when the Army Chief complained to him, the Minister said he “could not act on an oral complaint made by anyone.”
Bharatiya Janata Party member Balbir Punj noted that the Minister had, earlier in his speech, said he had acted even on “anonymous complaints [of irregularities] And here it was the Army Chief who came in person and complained to you.”
Mr. Punj asked, “What action did you take?”
“I acted on my own judgment,” the Minister replied. “If I'm wrong, you can punish me.”
Meanwhile, Lt.-Gen. Tejinder Singh, a former intelligence officer, filed a complaint in a Delhi court, asking it to proceed against the Army Chief for making libellous statements.
Lt.-Gen. Singh is alleged to have acted on behalf of Tatra, in an effort to block the Army from allowing competing firms to seek contracts for supply of specialised military trucks. He has, however, denied either working for Tatra or offering Gen. Singh a bribe, claiming instead to have visited the Army Chief only to seek re-employment.
In his interview to The Hindu, Gen. Singh alleged that the trucks were overpriced and substandard.