The Congress on Wednesday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over reports that his government allegedly offered to free two Italian marines on trial for murder in India in exchange for evidence linking Sonia Gandhi to a tainted helicopter deal.
Media reports quoted a British agent, wanted by Indian investigators in connection with the aborted purchase of AgustaWestland choppers for VIPs, as having brought the charge in a letter to the International Tribunal of the Law of the Seas and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
The agent, identified as Christian Michel, has claimed that Modi made the proposal when he met his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last year.
“If the revelations are to be believed, and the last 48 hours since the report came out has seen no denial from the PMO, we now know, at the cost of the exchequer, what these foreign visits are about,” Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan said on Wednesday.
Party general secretary Digvijaya Singh also asked the PM to clarify his stand on the allegations. “Mr Prime Minister is it a fact?” he asked on Twitter.
The two marines are being tried in India for allegedly killing two fishermen off the Indian coast on February 15, 2012. Though the marines claim they mistook the two fishermen for pirates, India says they opened fire without any provocation.
The alleged revelations have the potential to turn into a bigger storm coming barely weeks ahead of the crucial budget session of Parliament.
The last session of Parliament had witnessed a sustained Congress attack on the BJP over the National Herald case in which Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders are allegedly involved. The political slugfest even resulted in prolonged disruptions of the winter session of parliament.
Even as the PMO chose not to comment, a foreign ministry official rejected the charge as “too ridiculous to comment on”.
In January 2014, India terminated the controversial Rs 3,727-crore contract with AgustaWestland to supply 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force, invoking the integrity pact to scrap the deal in which the UK-based firm allegedly paid middlemen more than Rs 375 crore in bribes.
The firm is a subsidiary of Italian defence giant Finmeccanica. The matter is under arbitration now.
Under the integrity pact, the bidder commits that bribes will not be offered and any violation empowers the government to cancel the contract and recover money already paid.
This was the first instance of a contract being cancelled after deliveries had begun. Three AW-101 choppers are already parked in IAF hangars.