Will probe why NDA government lifted ban on Agusta, says Congress
The Congress on Sunday sought to turn the tables on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the AgustaWestland VIP helicopter deal, saying that it will “investigate the alleged nexus between the company and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government when it comes to power” in 2019.
The opposition party alleged that it was the Modi government that removed AgustaWestland and its parent group Finmeccanica from the list of blacklisted companies and allowed it to bid for 100 helicopters for the Indian Navy. “Today, the ED [Enforcement Directorate] may save the Modi government but when it is voted out of power in 2019, we are fully committed to investigating the nexus between Prime Minister Modi and his government,” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told reporters.
The remarks came a day after ED told a Delhi court that Christian Michel James, the suspected middleman in the AgustaWestland bribery case, was misusing legal access. He was handing his lawyers notes on how he should deal with questions on a “Mrs Gandhi” and a certain “son of the Italian lady who could be the Prime Minister”, ED said.
The purported claim triggered a war of words between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While the BJP alleged that the references were to Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the Opposition party accused the government of misusing agencies to smear the Gandhi family.
“A statement made before police has no evidentiary value in the court of law. Secondly, we have nothing to do with a conversation between a lawyer and a client. If there is any evidence, why don’t they [government] place that in the public domain? Why are they hiding behind fake innuendoes? Actually, they are hiding their own misdeeds and wrongdoings by such insinuations and innuendoes,” Surjewala said.
“But they will face investigation and the link between Modi and AgustaWestland will be probed for sure when the government changes in 2019.”
In July 2018, he said media reports had elaborated as to how Christian Michel’s lawyer and his sister, Rosemary Patrizi Dos Anjos, revealed that the “Indian Prime Minister and ED pressurised him to make false and fabricated statements against” the Congress leadership while he knew nobody in the Gandhi-Nehru family.
Former finance minister P Chidambaram also took a dig at the government, ED and the media over the “new improved system” of trying cases and pronouncing judgments without evidence.
“If the government, ED and the media have their way, in this country, cases will be tried on TV channels. Further, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act will not apply. What the ED says will be oral evidence, any piece of paper that the ED produces will be documentary evidence and what the TV channel pronounces will be the judgment,” he said on Twitter.
“Even kangaroo courts hold trials in a courtroom. Our new ‘improved’ system will surpass kangaroo courts and deliver justice on TV channels,” he added.
Surjewala alleged that the Prime Minister was trying to “hide his own misdeeds as he is the protector, benefactor and promoter” of AgustaWestland.
“We [UPA] initiated the investigation into the chopper deal in 2013. An FIR was also lodged. We were even ready for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe but the BJP backed out,” he said.
He said the Modi government permitted blacklisted company AgustaWestland to get clearances from Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) and permit its entry as partner or sub-contractor to various Indian companies.
Surjewala said the ban on AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica was revoked by the Modi government despite a pending Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) case and also the violation of the ‘integrity clause’, for which its contract was terminated.
“Not only this, Modi government sought a special opinion from its attorney general in July 2014 and permitted Agusta Westland/Finmeccanica to be part of ‘Make in India’ and bid for 100 Naval utility helicopters besides clearing its investment proposals through FIPB for the manufacture of AW119 helicopters,” he said.
The Congress leader asked the Prime Minister how his government lost all the cases in international courts against AgustaWestland and why it did not file appeals.
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