Hitting back at BJP on the VVIP chopper deal, the Congress party on Wednesday sought to know why was Agusta Westland removed from the blacklisted category by the Modi dispensation.
Rejecting the accusations levelled against the party in the deal, Congress leader and former union minister Anand Sharma said, “The chopper deal was scrapped. Action was taken by the UPA government. AK Antony, the then defence minister had made a statement in Parliament and Agusta Westland was blacklisted.
“Probe was ordered by the UPA Government - both by the ED and the CBI,” he told reporters.
BJP is planning to target Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other party leaders on the issue of payment of bribes in the Agusta Westland chopper deal during the UPA rule in a bid to corner the main opposition party which has been paralysing Rajya Sabha on the Uttarakhand issue.
Sharma claimed that instead of putting the probe on the fast track, the Modi government removed Agusta Westland from the blacklisted category so that it “could bid for some projects of Navy as part of the Prime Minister’s Make in India programme”.
“What prompted the BJP government to reverse the decision of blacklisting,” he asked insisting that the UPA government had been proactive in the probe once it came to know that some corruption was involved.
“We took the matter to the Milan court, to the Naples prosecutor,” he said.
The Congress leader’s reactions came following media reports that an Italian court, which has convicted Augusta Westland chief Giuseppe Orsi, has reportedly referred to how the firm paid bribes to top Congress leaders to bag the Rs 3,600 crore deal.
About allegations against Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh in the matter, Sharma said, “We reject them with the contempt they deserve”.
“No one should be making loose comments against Congress president and Manmohan Singh whose integrity and intellect was never in question,” he said.
Noting that he was not privy to the Italian court’s documents, Sharma took a dig at BJP saying perhaps the “ruling party has got a special interpretation and translators team at their headquarters”.
“BJP has been making irresponsible statements and the Congress is not going to accept this. They have been hurling wild accusations. We are not running away from debate. Why the probe is not over in the last two years,” he said.
Prasad accused the UPA government of stalling the CBI probe into the chopper scam, claiming that it did not let the investigation agency examine the then national security adviser M K Narayanan and SPG chief B V Wanchoo and that they were quizzed only after the NDA came to power.
The probe by the CBI and ED has now gathered pace, he said, adding that the secrecy clause, which prevented Italian prosecutors from sharing information with the CBI, is no longer relevant following the conviction.
When asked why he was not naming Congress leaders allegedly involved in the scam, he said, “It was the first chapter today”, indicating that the party will escalate its attack on Congress in the coming days.
The UPA government had signed a deal with Agusta Westland for purchase of 12 helicopters to ferry VVIPs but it was scrapped after reports appeared in Italy that the firm had paid kickbacks to Indian officials to clinch the deal. CBI began probing the case in 2013.
BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said Congress chief Sonia Gandhi should come out with a clarification over the alleged mention of her name in the Italian court’s order.
“Her government was the champion of corruption. She must issue a clarification over the mention of her name by the court,” he told the media.
Prasad also attacked former home minister P Chidambaram over the change in Ishrat Jahan affidavit. He asked the senior Congress leader if there was a political agenda in omitting reference to her LeT links in the second affidavit filed in the alleged fake encounter killing case which found mention in the first affidavit.
“Did you order changing the affidavit? Did you bypass, ignore the then Home Secretary and other officials in the Ministry?” he asked.