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Advani framed me: Abhishek

"I've nothing to do with the Scorpene deal. The BJP leader is trying to drag me into the controversy," Verma said.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2006 19:57 IST

Saying he had nothing to do with the Scorpene submarine deal, businessman Abhishek Verma has broken his silence by alleging that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader LK Advani was seeking to frame him with the backing of an international arms dealer.

Speaking for the first time since the corruption scandal erupted naming him as the middleman, the Delhi-based businessman said he was being "nailed" by Advani and Suresh Nanda, who is working with HDW, the German submarine manufacturer.

"I have nothing to do with the (Scorpene) submarine deal. BJP leader LK Advani is trying to drag me into this cooked up controversy and he is being assisted as well as funded by Suresh Nanda, an international arms dealer who is working with HDW," Verma, who is alleged to have received kickbacks, saidin an exclusive interview.

He said he was not involved either in the Rs.187.98 billion ($4.2 billion) Scorpene submarine deal, which the government facing charges of corruption strenuously defended in Parliament, or in the war room leak of the Naval Directorate last year.

In October last year, India, after four years of negotiations, signed one of its biggest ever arms purchase deals to procure six Scorpene submarines from the French company Thales.

Introducing a new dimension to the ongoing controversy involving the submarine deal, Verma maintained that Nanda had not only funded Advani but also masterminded the effort to link him in the defence deal so that the multibillion dollar contract could either be put on hold or be renegotiated.

"Remember, Nanda was negotiating for the HDW submarine deal that did not come through. Now, he is using the BJP to raise corruption charges on the submarine deal after media reports," said Verma, who heads Atlas Interactive, a telecom solutions company.

Advani, he said, had "neither strategy nor direction" and was looking for political mileage to make a comeback.

"I am a businessman and I have not been involved in any defence deals. My name is being dragged in only to embarrass me and my family and their (BJP) campaign is not going to lead them anywhere," he said.

According to Verma, Nanda was being assisted by a cartel that included a Supreme Court lawyer close to spiritual guru Chandraswami and a disgraced former Enforcement Directorate official.

"There are more people involved as well. The entire move to raise questions on the deal at the political level has been orchestrated by Nanda and I know that he briefed LK Advani personally and funded the entire campaign," he alleged.

Suresh Nanda, when contacted, dismissed the allegations. "These are ridiculous charges. I am very busy now and in Austria for business."

Verma said the alleged e-mail to him from Thales' top honcho Jean-Paul Perrier - published in the weekly newsmagazine Outlook - promising a four per cent commission for the Scorpene deal was a "forgery".

"The e-mail is a complete forgery. You think commissions are confirmed on e-mails. Please credit me with more intelligence! I have already sued Outlook, which first published these fabricated e-mails. I have initiated criminal legal proceedings against all the three NDA (National Democratic Alliance) leaders -- Advani, (George) Fernandes and Jaswant Singh -- who held a press conference and distributed these fictional e-mails to the media," he said.

"Look at the hypocrisy of it all. A senior party functionary was shown in the house of former defence minister George Fernandes accepting wads of money. And now he sits on the high table demanding a probe and termination of the contract."

According to Verma, his company was in talks with Thales a year ago for collaborating on telecom related services but the discussions did not lead to anything tangible.

"Even Thales country director Francois Du Pont has talked on this aspect to the media."

When asked why he entertained Perrier at his farmhouse early this year if he had nothing to do with the deal, Verma said the occasion was a purely social one.

"Is it a crime to host a dinner? I had a few people over and remember Thales is not just a defence major. The company has several divisions and I am still hopeful that maybe in the future something might materialise."

According to Verma, Gwendolin Berger, a Belgian national, who had been projected as a Thales representative was in fact an employee of his group's joint venture company based in Paris.

In an expansive mood, Verma also denied involvement with the navy war room leaks that led to the dismissal of three senior naval officers.

"Sure, I know Ravi Shankaran, the relative of the naval chief Arun Prakash. But like I keep insisting I have no official dealings with him. I don't know anything about his business."

"Just because photographs are published that does not mean I am at fault. This is a classic case of guilt by association."

Following allegations of corruption, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee strongly defended the deal saying the Indian and French governments had for the first time signed integrity pacts to ensure complete transparency in defence deals.

On the contrary, Mukherjee said, the government had successfully negotiated a reduction in submarine prices and managed to save more than Rs.3 billion of public money.

First Published: Mar 24, 2006 19:51 IST