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Agusta scam: There’s no good translation of Italian court’s judgement

The problem for the Congress is exacerbated by the fact the party has willingly accepted bribes were paid. That’s why it cancelled the contract in 2014

columns Updated: May 07, 2016 20:26 IST
AgustaWestland,Italian Court of Appeal,Sonia Gandhi
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were briefly arrested at the Parliament Street police station during their ‘Save Democracy’ march.(HT Photo)

Has the Italian Court of Appeal’s judgement in the AgustaWestland matter created a serious problem for the Congress party or is that, largely, political exaggeration and media hype? I’m sure that’s a question you must have asked yourself. Let me see if I can offer a credible and convincing answer.

If you accept the Italian Appeal Court has proved bribes were paid and the recipients were Indians — and most people do including the Congress party — then, logically, it has to follow they would have gone to people who matter. In this case that has to be people who could have influenced the deal.

Now what sort of people are we talking about? Certainly not chaprasis and peons. Not even deputy secretaries or joint secretaries. Possibly chiefs of the Air Force. But is that it? Can you exclude ministers and senior members of the Congress party?

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I would say definitely not. After all, it’s at their level that the final decision would have been taken. Therefore, if bribes were paid you have to believe they were amongst those who got them. Anything else defies logic!

Now, I’m phrasing myself carefully but my meaning must be clear. Logically, the finger points at people at or near the top. We can only speculate but, surely, someone senior must be involved? This, therefore, is the biggest problem the Italian judgement has created for the Congress and it’s one the party has problems accepting.

There are, however, two other areas where the Congress faces worrying questions. First, the judgement talks of “a substantial disregard to arrive at a full explanation of the facts, effectively demonstrated by the procedural behaviour of the Indian Ministry of Defence”. That disregard clearly suggests the Indian government wasn’t helpful but it could also imply there was an attempt to cover up.

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In fact, The Economic Times (25/4) claims a footnote in the judgement states that in April 2013, when Italy asked for full documentation to enable prosecution, the Indian government only delivered three documents and that, too, after a delay of 11 months. If true, that seems to prove the “disregard” the Italian judgement speaks of.

Second, Ravi Shankar Prasad has told The Indian Express (29/4) that when the CBI registered a preliminary enquiry on February 12, 2013, Christian Michel was in India but, literally, 24 hours later left the country. As Mr Prasad concluded: “This is not a coincidence.” I presume he’s alleging that someone in the UPA government tipped off Michel.

However, beyond this the references to Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmad Patel and Oscar Fernandes don’t amount to very much. They are either innocuous and innocent or can be easily explained. They don’t suggest any form of criminality.

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Finally, is there an argument the Congress could make in its defence? There certainly is. It could point out we don’t have an authentic and reliable translation of the Italian judgement. What we have is not just poor and confusing but it comes from a possibly questionable website. So, if that’s all we have, we don’t have a document we can trust.

Unfortunately, the problem for the Congress is exacerbated by the fact the party has willingly accepted bribes were paid. That’s why it cancelled the contract in 2014. And, now, the question who took them suggests, almost inexorably, people within the party and, possibly, at or near its top.

I find all of this reasonably convincing but I’m open to an argument that proves it’s not.

(The views expressed are personal.)

First Published: May 07, 2016 20:26 IST