The Congress party’s claim that its government blacklisted an Italian armament company at the centre of a corruption scandal was a “figment of imagination”, said finance minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday.
AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defence giant Finmeccanica, allegedly paid more than Rs 375 crore as bribe in a deal to supply 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force. The deal was scrapped in 2014.
The issue rocked the ongoing Parliament session after a Milan court convicted two Italian officials for bribing Indian officials and politicians to secure the Rs 3,727-crore contract in 2010.
“The buck stops with those who took the decision and the decision was influenced by bribery. The fact that there was bribery is unquestionably there.
“There is a transaction in which bribe-giver is being convicted. We are only struggling to find out the identity of the bribe-taker,” Jaitley said in Thiruvananthapuram.
Jaitley, a former defence minister, was interacting with the audience after releasing the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) vision document for the May 16 Kerala assembly polls.
“Strangers don’t get bribes. Those who influenced decision get bribes,” he said.
Although the Italian court did not indict any Indian politician, the ruling BJP has sought to corner the Congress over references in the court documents to middlemen talking about “Signora Gandhi” - believed to be Congress president Sonia Gandhi - being the “driving force” behind the deal.
Jaitley also said blacklisting of a company takes place if guilt is established. He said the defence minister of the UPA regime had passed an order saying that all contracts with Agusta should be put on hold in May 2014 when its ouster was imminent.
After the NDA came to power, a detailed order putting on hold all transactions with Agusta was passed on June 9, 2014. The matter was referred to the attorney general, who said the past supplies might require some repairs and spare parts.
“Defence prepardness of the country may be hurt if we stop that also...Therefore those can go on, but future contracts shall be put on hold till the matter is investigated,” Jaitely said, adding an order in this regard was passed on July 3, 2014.
Former defence minister AK Antony, who was in office when the controversial deal surfaced, said AgustaWestland was now involved in the Make in India campaign of the Modi government.
“We request the government not to involve this company in the Make in India campaign,” said Antony.
He said during the trial in the Italian court, the CBI and ministry of defence officials participated at every stage.
All the witnesses were cross-examined and no names were revealed, he said, even as his party dared the government to take action against the culprits within two months.