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Holes in George?s Kalam alibi

india Updated: Oct 12, 2006 14:59 IST
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THE CENTRAL  Bureau of Investigation's probe into the import of the Barak anti-missile defence systems rebuts former defence minister George Fernandes's claim made on Tuesday. Fernandes claimed the Barak systems were bought because
president A. P. J. Abdul Kalam insisted on it.

The CBI has maintained that on the contrary, between 1996 and 1999, President Kalam had at least twice objected to the government going ahead with the arms deal. Kalam was then the scientific adviser to the defence minister and secretary of the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).

A senior CBI officer, who did not wish to be identified, said even the then defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav had rejected the Indian Navy's proposal to import the Barak systems.

The navy had sought the missile systems to counter Pakistan's Exocet missile system. The CBI officer said Kalam had given a conditional approval to the deal in 1996. "Kalam favoured the development of the indigenous Trishul," said the officer. "He said the Barak systems should be procured only to meet the navy's immediate need and if the manufacturer agreed to reduce the price and transfer the technology."

In 1997, the navy again requested for the import of one Barak missile system to modernise INS Viraat. The Cabinet Committee on Security approved the deal but the Finance Ministry and then the DRDO objected to it.In 1999, Kalam in a letter to Fernandes pointed at the 50 per cent failure rate of imported weapons. He also said Barak's performance was yet untested and it would take a long time to import the system.

CBI spokesman G. Mohanty said on Wednesday that the contract was awarded on October 23, 2000 to the Israel Aircraft Industries despite objections by the DRDO and the then defence secretary. "The then chief of naval staff (Sushil Kumar) had put up a note directly to the then defence minister (Fernandes) to import six Barak AMD systems," said Mohanty.

"The then chief of naval staff misrepresented facts by citing the DRDO approval of 1996. This, when the then chief of naval staff had discussed the matter that very day with the then DRDO chief, who had opposed the proposal."

On Monday, the CBI had filed an FIR in which it had accused Fernandes, Sushil Kumar, Jaya Jaitly, the then Samata Party treasurer R.K. Jain and arms dealer Suresh Nanda of corruption in the Rs 1,125 crore Barak deal. It also claimed to have evidence that Jaitly was paid Rs 2 crore, and Jain "several lakhs of rupees" in October 1998.

The CBI is now preparing to send letters rogatory  -- a formal request by the designated court where the FIR has been filed -- to the Israeli government to assist in the investigations. It will send similar requests in the Krasnopol Terminally Guided Ammunition case to Russia. The CBI has already sent letters rogatory to South Africa, Hong Kong and the Man of Isle in the Denel arms-deal case.

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