Calling BJP president Amit Shah and the party “experts of levelling allegations”, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala on Saturday said they were making a “mountain of a molehill”.
Pitched battles have been raging both inside and outside the parliament in the past week with BJP targeting Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and other party leaders over the 2010 chopper deal that was later scrapped as false practices came to light.
Shah on Friday posed three questions to the Congress over technicalities in the deal, pressing Gandhi to respond to them and holding her responsible for scam.
“Amit Shah raised three questions, we now seek answers for three questions. Amit Shah says that AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica are fraud companies. If AgustaWestland is a fraud company then why are they protecting it for two years? Why was AgustaWestland part of the Defence Expo? If it is fraud then why did your government give FIPB permission it on October 8, 2015? ...If it is a fraud company then is your government part of that fraud?,” he asked.
Surjewala said the whole issue was a conspiracy against the Congress and its leadership. “Truth will prevail as empty vessels make more noise,” he told ANI.
Responding to Surjewala, defence minister Manohar Parrikar charged the Congress party of trying to deflect attention from the real question of ‘who took the bribe’ in the AgustaWestland scam.
“Biggest question (of) ‘who took bribe?’, that has to be answered by the previous Government... Italian high court equivalent clearly said that political corruption was 15.8 million, that’s Rs 125 crore, they have also taken some names,” Parrikar said.
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli also said, “Under the NDA, not a single thing has been purchased from AgustaWestland, ED is investigating a few people... A lot is happening, so Congress is just trying to distract public from the question of ‘who took bribe’.”
The AgustaWestland contract for Rs 3,600 crore for supplying 12 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force was scrapped by the UPA government over charges of kickbacks being paid to Indian agents. In January 2013, India cancelled the deal and the CBI was assigned to investigate the matter.
Highlighting that the tender could be signed only by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), Shah questioned AgustaWestland’s signing the tender despite not being the original manufacturer. Shah questioned Gandhi over whose direction the provisions in tender was tampered with. He also questioned why the field evaluation trial of the choppers, which was to be done in India, was later changed.
Shah said that if such permission of changes in the tender was given by the then defence minister AK Antony, the Congress chief was answerable too.
Congress leader Veerappa Moily, who was union petroleum minister under the UPA, came to Antony’s defence on Saturday, stating the party had taken immediate steps when allegations of bribery were proved.
“The UPA government, after having found some transactions of bribery, immediate steps were taken by our defence minister AK Antony to institute a CBI enquiry. Thereafter, the contract was cancelled, we filed a case before the Milan (court). Firm steps were taken in name of integrity,” the Congress leader told ANI.
Moily also pointed out that negotiations with AgustaWestland, in fact, began during former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government and his defence minister and advisors were involved.
“They believed Headley and now they believe the mafia, they think his word is the last word. If this is the kind of a statement, the credibility of the statement will have to be of great suspect. Which court has proved that Sonia Gandhi or anybody is involved? It is false,” he said, alleging the NDA was in the habit of encouraging terrorists as witnesses.
Christian Michel, the accused middleman in the chopper deal, offered himself to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for questioning this week.
The ED said it found evidence that corroborated the allegations of bribes being paid to swing the deal in AgustaWestland’s favour.
Michel however told The Hindu from Dubai that he was willing to answer the Indian investigators’ questions ‘to clear’ his name, so long as he never met the Congress president or a ‘single Gandhi’ in his life.