DRDO chief S Christopher met defence minister Manohar Parrikar on Monday and briefed him on India’s airborne early warning and control (AWE&C) systems project based on the Embraer-145 plane, three days after allegations of kickbacks were reported in a Brazilian paper.
Last week, India set a 15-day deadline for Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer to submit a report on the graft charges in the $208-million deal. The UPA government inked the deal for three Embraer planes in 2008 as part of a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) programme to scale up the air force’s AWE&C capabilities. The AEW&C systems developed by the DRDO are being installed on the planes.
Defence ministry sources said Christopher gave a detailed briefing on different aspects of the project that should have been completed in 2011. Last week, Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo revealed that the 2008 deal was under the lens of US authorities for possible kickbacks. The government could ask the CBI to probe the deal if there is evidence of criminality.
The planes supplied by Brazil have been fitted with indigenous radars to serve as AEW&C aircraft for the Indian Air Force under a Rs 2,400-crore project.
It is suspected that a UK-based middleman may have been paid bribes to influence the deal. Middlemen are not allowed in defence business in India.
The defence ministry has finalised a blacklisting policy for arms contractors, with new penalties debarring firms from conducting business with the government for a period ranging from one to 10 years. The provisions can be invoked in case criminality is proved or there’s evidence of kickbacks. In 2014, India terminated a contract with AgustaWestland to supply 12 VVIP helicopters, following kickback allegations.