India on Saturday set a 15-day deadline for Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer to submit a report on allegations of kickbacks in a $208-million deal to supply jets, barely two weeks after New Delhi wrote to French authorities to probe the Scorpene data leak.
South Block sources said defence minister Manohar Parrikar was briefed on the developments and he was closely monitoring the case.
The UPA government inked the deal for three Embraer-145 planes in 2008 as part of a DRDO programme to scale up the air force’s airborne early warning and control (AWE&C) capabilities. The AEW&C systems developed by the DRDO are being installed on the planes.
As India inches towards completing the delayed AEW&C project early next year, Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo on Thursday reported that the 2008 deal was under the watch of US authorities for possible kickbacks.
It said the US had launched investigations to establish whether Embraer paid bribes in order to obtain contracts abroad and if that had affected deals that the Brazilian company closed with Saudi Arabia and India.
It is suspected that a UK-based middleman may have been paid bribes to influence the deal. Middlemen are not allowed to take part in defence business in India.
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. The project is behind schedule — it was supposed to have been completed in April 2011. DRDO chief S Christopher, who earlier headed the project, did not respond to phone calls.
In two tweets on Saturday, the defence ministry spokesperson said, “DRDO to seek explanation & details from manufacturers of Embraer aircraft on media reports on deal for the aircraft signed in 2008.” “On receipt of information by DRDO further steps may be initiated.”
Folha reported that Embraer has been under investigation by the US Justice Department since 2010 when a contract with the Dominican Republic raised the Americans’ suspicions and since then, the investigation has widened to examine business dealings with eight more countries.