Three Indian Army officers and a US supplier were chargesheeted on Saturday by the CBI in the Kargil war coffin scam. The agency, however, has given a clean chit to then defence minister George Fernandes.
“The CBI has named Major General (retd) Arun Roye, Colonel (retd) S.K. Malik and a serving officer Colonel F.B. Singh, besides a private person and US citizen Victor Baiza in the chargesheet. But Fernandes’s does not figure in the chargesheet,” said a CBI officer who did not want to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
The Defence Ministry had imported 500 aluminum caskets from US-based funeral service company Buitron and Baiza to transport the bodies of soldiers killed during the Kargil War. It was alleged that the ministry gave a go-by to all procedures of defence procurement to buy each casket for $2,500 (Rs 1.21 lakh) — nearly 14 times higher than the actual price. In the first lot, 150 caskets were received after the war had ended in July 1999.
Similar caskets were supplied to the United Nation’s mission in Somalia and the US Army for $172 (Rs 8,250) each.
CBI spokesman Harsh Bhal told HT that the chargesheet was filed in the Patiala House Courts of Special Judge O.P. Saini on August 19. The accused have been challaned on charges of corruption, criminal conspiracy and cheating.
Although an order had been placed for the purchase of aluminum caskets, it was rejected subsequently. “In the meantime, however, the private person (Victor Baiza) had already received the payment against the Letter of Credit (for the supply). This caused a loss of Rs 89 lakh to the government exchequer,” Bhal added.
After the scam came to light in 2002, then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee had termed the allegations against Fernandes as baseless. But some parties had demanded his resignation.
In 2004, however, the UPA government ordered a CBI inquiry into the coffin scam.