BJP, Cong trade barbs on Agusta case chargesheet
Prime Minister Narendra Modi fired new salvo against the Congress on Friday, claiming that the suspected principal middleman in the AugustaWestland helicopter deal, Christian Michel, had named senior party leaders, including the Gandhi family, among the people to whom he had paid bribes to secure the ₹3,600 crore deal for the company.
The Congress dismissed the charge sheet as a “heap election stunt” and filed a complaint with the Election Commission against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for making the allegations. Michel told a court that he had not given any names to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that filed a charge sheet in the case on Thursday.
At an election rally in Uttarakhand capital Dehradun on Friday, Modi alleged that jugalbandi (fusion) between the Congress and corruption had become evident from the charge sheet filed in a Delhi court by the ED, which investigates cases of money laundering and violations of foreign exchange laws.
“Michel mama (uncle) has confessed in the charge sheet that the bribes in the controversial chopper deal had been given to one AP and FAM,” he said.
He was referring to Michel, who was extradited on December 4, 2018, from the United Arab Emirates to participate in investigations into the chopper deal.
“And do you know who are AP and FAM,” he asked, then added: “AP means Ahmed Patel, a senior Congress leader, who you know is considered close to whom.”
He went on to explain that FAM means family, a reference to the Gandhi family including Congress president Rahul Gandhi, and his mother and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
“The charge sheet was filed against Michel Mama on the basis of his confessions that bribes were paid to AP and FAM,” the PM said.
The ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation are probing allegations of corruption and money laundering in the 2007 contract for the purchase of 12 luxury VVIP helicopters for use by top leaders, including the President, Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers. The deal was cancelled on January 1, 2014, by the then Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) over the allegations of wrongdoing.
The BJP has targeted the Congress party using the allegations in the campaign for the seven-phase general election that kicks off on April 11.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley questioned the “silence” of the Gandhi family over the charge sheet. “When no reply is given to such serious allegations, then the country is entitled to presume that no reply can be given,” Jaitley wrote in a blog post.
“Are ‘RG’, ‘AP’ and ‘FAM’ fictional characters or were they in a position to influence the deal,” he asked, adding that the public neither forgets nor forgives the corrupt. “Silence is never an answer to documentary evidence of corruption.”
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the ED’s charge sheet was full of “rehashed insinuations, lies and cheap election stunts” and was an attempt to divert the nation’s attention from the BJP’s imminent defeat in the Lok Sabha elections .
“A panic-stricken Modi government and its puppet ED will not be able to change its exit date and fate. The Prime Minister has already been rejected by the people,” Surjewala said, adding that parts of the charge sheet had been “selectively leaked” to the media to score political points.
He said the Modi government had lost all litigation it filed against AgustaWestland in an Italian court on January 8, 2018, and had not even filed an appeal.
Jaitley countered the Congress at a press conference. “The evidence is overwhelming. The needle of suspicion is clear and if no answer is given, it means there is no answer that can be offered,” he said.
Congress leader Ahmed Patel tweeted: “The season of elections has begun, and the season of scams has begun. Baseless and ridiculous accusations are pouring in. We have full faith in the judiciary that the truth can never be hidden”.
In the evening, a Congress delegation comprising Patel, Surjewala, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Jairam Ramesh filed a complaint with the Election Commission. Singhvi told the EC that a single uncertified page of the purported charge sheet has been leaked by ED to malign the Congress. Surjewala said ED has become Election Dhakosla (sham) “of a government manufacturing a lie a day”.
In Dehradun, citing reports, Modi alleged that when journalists approached the Congress president to seek his reaction after the charge sheet had been filed in court, the “naamdaar” (dynast) pushed them away. He said the family that boasted that it was the maker of modern India “is now doing everything it can” to save itself from going to jail.
“But this chowkidar (watchman) of yours stands like a wall against the corrupt. Which is why they are not able to tolerate me”, Modi said, adding that the Gandhi family was now “praying to God that they don’t have to cool their heels in jail.”
The PM also accused the Congress of protecting Pakistan-based terrorists and wanted to scrap and dilute two crucial laws -- the sedition law and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) -- to help subversive elements, referring to promises made in the party’s election manifesto.
“Those two laws are the defence forces’ only legal bulwark against terrorists and subversive elements,” Modi said.