The Central Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday questioned two former chairmen-cum-managing directors of defence public sector unit Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) in connection with the alleged corruption in procurement and supply of all-terrain Tatra trucks to the Army.
Among those quizzed by a CBI team in Bangalore were former BEML CMDs T.V.S. Shastra and V.R.S. Natarajan. “Four company directors, who were on the board when the deal was struck, were also questioned. The relevant records pertaining to the deal were also collected,” said a CBI spokesperson.
The agency had in March 2012 registered a case alleging that some unknown officials of BEML had entered into criminal conspiracy with one of the owners of a U.K.-based company (Vectra), having a name similar to a Czech company Tatra that manufactured the trucks.
According to the FIR, the agreement signed earlier with a foreign trade corporation of Czechoslovakia for the trucks was fraudulently assigned to the U.K.-based firm by showing it as the original manufacturer, a fully owned subsidiary of the Czech company.
The CBI probe had earlier revealed that in 1986, BEML entered into an agreement with Tatra of the erstwhile Czechoslovakia for supply of Tatra T815 trucks. As part of the deal, papers on technological know-how were also bought for Rs. 3 crore on an understanding that BEML would gradually indigenise the trucks and the target fixed was 85 per cent indigenisation by 1991.
After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, the company split into two. While the one that manufactured 70 per cent of the vehicle parts was named Tatra AS, the other called Vab Sipox was later privatised and 80 per cent of that company was taken over by one Josef Majsky, who allegedly had business links with accused Ravi Rishi.
Ravi Rishi’s Venus Projects — which was allegedly neither the manufacturer nor its subsidiary — then got an order for supply of 100 trucks to BEML. According to CBI sources, Venus and Tatra Sipox purportedly came together to form Tatra Sipox U.K. “The company was allegedly taken over by Mr. Rishi and it came to be known as Vectra” said an official.
While Mr. Rishi and the other suspects in the case have refuted the allegations in the past, the CBI also suspects that BEML partially surrendered the manufacturing rights of the trucks in February 2003 during the tenure of Mr. Natarajan, allegedly through a memorandum of understanding with the Ravi Rishi-owned Tatra Sipox U.K.
“Based on the 1986 and 1997 agreements with the manufacturing company, the public sector unit had acquired exclusive rights to manufacture the vehicles. But, through the MoU with Tatra Sipox U.K., the rights were partially surrendered by excluding the axle part,” said the official.
The agency has found that the agreement for supply of truck components was renewed in 1997 and that it reiterated the exclusive manufacturing rights of BEML in India. It also allegedly stated that the relevant technological know-how papers had been transferred to it.