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Updated: March 31, 2012 02:22 IST

CBI files FIR in Tatra deal as Army Chief sends in his reply

Vinay Kumar
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Mobile Launcher mounted on Tatra vehicles. CBI will be probing into purchases of Tatra trucks from 1997 onwards, according to sources.
The Hindu Photo Library Mobile Launcher mounted on Tatra vehicles. CBI will be probing into purchases of Tatra trucks from 1997 onwards, according to sources.

Names a London businessman who has majority stake in Tatra; sleuths conduct searches in Delhi, Noida & Bangalore

Nearly a week after Army Chief General V.K. Singh’s disclosure in an exclusive interview to The Hindu that he was offered a bribe by an equipment lobbyist, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday registered a First Information Report (FIR) for alleged irregularities in supply of all-terrain Tatra trucks through public sector BEML to the Army.

The FIR names Ravi Rishi, a London-based businessman who owns the Vectra group and has a majority stake in the Tatra trucks, a Czech manufacturer. It also refers to unknown officials of BEML, Vectra and Army. The case has been registered under provisions of the Indian Penal Code relating to criminal conspiracy to cheat and under the Prevention of Corruption Act for allegedly indulging in corrupt practices.

Army Chief replies

Later in the day, CBI received a reply from the Army Chief wherein he has confirmed the offer of bribe made to him, a disclosure which he had made in his March 26 interview to The Hindu. CBI sources said the General has said that he would furnish more details soon. His reply also does not mention any bribe amount, the sources said.

CBI raid

Soon after formally registering the case, CBI officials carried out searches at four places in Delhi, Noida, and Bangalore, official sources said. The sources said the probe would look into purchases of Tatra trucks from 1997 onwards.

Rishi questioned

Mr. Rishi, a British national, who is here for the ongoing Defence Expo, was called by the CBI officials to the agency’s headquarters for questioning. Since 1986, Army has purchased some 7000 Tatra trucks to transport troops and artillery. In his interview to The Hindu, the Army Chief had alleged that the trucks were overpriced and substandard. The General alleged that the lobbyist had offered him the bribe of Rs. 14 crore to clear a tranche of 600 sub-standard vehicles for purchase.

'Probe ordered in 2009'

Top sources in the CBI told The Hindu that the agency had received the reference from Defence Ministry on March 26 itself regarding allegations made by the Army Chief which mainly contained the copy of report and the interview of the Army Chief published that day. The sources said the agency was not in possession of any audio tape, purported to contain conversation about offer of a bribe to the Army Chief.

Even as the CBI started searches, the Defence Ministry said that a day after receiving a letter from Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on October 5, 2009, forwarding the complaint of Dr. D. Hanumanthappa, addressed to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Defence Minister A. K. Antony had asked the Secretary (Defence Production) to look into various issues raised in the complaint.

Violation

It is learnt that the complaint had said that Vectra in London was serving as a middleman which was in violation of guidelines as the equipment for the Army is meant to be bought directly from the manufacturer and not through a middleman.

"Records show that the vigilance wings of Ministry of Defence and BEML were examining the matter and there are also correspondence between the CBI and Chief Vigilance Officer of BEML on these allegations,’’ the statement issued by Defence Ministry said.

Digging out its records, the Ministry claimed that the Defence Minister had accorded his sanction for a CBI investigation on February 21, 2012, much before the sensational revelation of the Army Chief made to this newspaper which also rocked Parliament with the opposition gunning for the UPA government.

BEML denies charge

K. V. Prasad adds:

Responding to alleged involvement of agents and lobbyists in placement of orders for the Tatra trucks, BEML chief V.R.S. Natarajan said that over the past 26 years, from 1986 onwards, BEML had assembled, manufactured, supplied 7,000 Tatra trucks.

"All of them have been done on single nomination basis, single inquiry basis. This type of equipment nobody in the world makes, because of its superior technological features. When I am the single vendor and there is no competition, there is no influence required,’’ he said.

Countering allegations about pricing of Tatra trucks, BEML chief said these trucks had "flexible axle" as compared to those with "fixed axle’’ and were technologically superior with features like air cooled engines.

He said that in recent field trials by Army fixed axle trucks which had missiles mounted on them had got stuck in the desert and the Army had to seek the services of Tatra trucks to pull them out. However, he did not name the manufacturer of ``fixed axle’’ trucks but indicated that Army had relaxed qualitative requirements in this case.

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In the Army lot of matters are informed verbally as information
between one and another and still action will be taken on the
defaulter. Similarly Army Chief has informed Defense Minister well in
advance and it was the duty of Defense Minister to take further
action like, a court of inquiry or C BI prob as the case may be. If Defense Minister wants it in writing, he should have asked the Army
Chief to put it in writing. As a matter of discipline in the Army,
generally one will not question the superior about what action he has
taken on the information he gave it to him.

from:  P Jayarajan
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 16:52 IST

Govt is papering over the whole episode. They only give statement to fool gullible indians, and make a fool of people. This is happening since 30-40yrs mainly. All the efforts of hardworking Indian common man are wasted by politicians. Govt is full of blood suckers of common man. Latest mysterious murder of two defence people(husband and wife) in Delhi, clearly points to putting obstacle inthe enquiry. This scam has similarities with health scam of UP by Mayawati govt.

from:  Rampal
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 11:10 IST

I dont't understand why the Army Chief kept quiet on his being offered the bribe. He has under him the Military Intellegience, and other senior staff officers whome could have been called and instructed them to proceed to lodge the FIR which he can do by authorising an officer rather than he should go personally. After the action has been taken from his end he should have reported the matter with full justification of the case with the Defence Minister. I don't understand why he has to wait when he has undr him the Corps of Military Police, Mil Intellegience Wing and what not. I don't think he has to wait for Defence Minister since the Officer who had offered him the bribe is ex Army Officer and as Chief he has the right to proceed with and later on inform the concerned Ministry.

from:  Jayaram Nair P
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 11:09 IST

A question asked is when these truks are brougt by BEMEL and sold to Army all the parts are orginal or some are Indiginised. If it is hybrid defenatly it will not match the orginal design or quality. That may be the Army chief indicating. There are quality diffence in the world market made for europe and made for India.unfortunatly most of the foregin companiees thinks this can be managed through money as the final decesion making lies with the non expert but either politicaly drived buracratic babus in ministry. those who are aligned with this philosopy will climp the lader in the promotion and hold the key position either in militry or ministry other wise the odd man out.

from:  manikantan
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 10:57 IST

If so, what are our world class scientists in DRDO doing, many of whom have now been designated as Scientist H, an unheard term till nineties?
Are they serving as YES people to bosses only pushing files?

from:  Atis
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 10:09 IST

Manufacturing of trucks can not be great engineering. If our local truck makers are given a chance I am fairly certain they can manufacture better trucks than Tatra.

from:  S. Vatsya
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 06:48 IST

Why could these trucks not be manufactured in India? What happened to technology transfer?

from:  krishna
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 02:46 IST

What is amazing about this whole corruption saga is the manner in which it was brought to light and the manner it is being handled. It's painful to witness the fact that corruption and utter incompetency is such deeply rooted in our hallowed armed forces and the defense ministry.
The incident raises a lot of questions in the public mind. Why has it taken a year after the incident occurred to take action action against the culprits? Why was the ministry of defense so inactive even when it had information that its army chief was being bribed and sold sub-standard vehicles. There are huge discrepancies in the accounts and warrants a thorough investigation of the affair.
Its unacceptable for the defense ministry to use the excuse of national security to sweep all shady deals under the carpet. All defense appointments and deals must be diligently regulated, well documented and information made publicly available. The tax paying citizens and the brave soldiers certainly deserve better.

from:  Denis
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 22:47 IST

No government can disown the legacy left by its predecessor. The present government atleast has been able to create an envioronment conducive to disclosure of corrupt practices prevailng in the system. It is hoped that the controversy over purchase of Tatra truck by the defence will be resolved at the earliest.

from:  Tapan kumar Ghosh
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 22:41 IST

General VK Singh, Army Chief, has a raised his voice against corruption in Defense Ministry just before his retirement. His timing is significant. His say after retirement would have no takers. All his utterance after retirement would be consigned in public dust bin.
If he was fortunate and got the extension, basing on his claim of birth certificate, he definitely would have utilized his remaining term to clean up and expose the “Rogue elements’ in the armed forces.
Corruption in military should have zero tolerance. This now is so rampage that we can see with our naked eye. The protections of our county from enemy and jealous nations are not certain.
Anna Hazare has awakened the common man to voice against corruption from public life, not even sparing parliamentarians. Similarly General VK Singh is taking a lead to expose corruption in armed forces while he still being in service.
Our defense Ministry is headed by politicians from the day India attained Independent as it should be, but riddled by persons with no patriotism.
Let the Media focus General VK Singh’s views in right perspective. The political parties who are supposed to count as patriots and have a say in the parliament be fair in their assessment. Let the general be given full freedom to voice his views, what does it matter if he is still in service in fag end.

from:  Prem Anand
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 22:37 IST

Tatra trucks are renowned since the communist days.So to blame a reowned
manufacturer on quality grounds is foolish.The army chief must be having
in mind some other manufacturer who offered him a better deal.

from:  raghavan
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 22:02 IST

CBI must take steps to stop clarification by the so called involved persons & organizations through Media statements & press conferences because it is going to effect the morale of the forces.The security of the country is supreme & it should be maintained by all costs. Electronic Media has got a flourishing business which is not praise worthy step.Some where these channels are also exploiting the situation.

from:  Dr.Virender
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 17:46 IST

My question to Mr. 'Clean' Antony is what was he doing all these years about Tatra manufacturer? Why did it take an interview to The Hindu by General V.K. Singh for CBI to register a case against Tatra? In other words unless nobody blows the whistle the system and its 'sutradhars' would continue to either loot the country or pretend not to see the evil! Shame on the govt and its mode of working (or not working)!

from:  Jitendra Dutta
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 16:49 IST
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