NDA: Cancel, probe Scorpene | india | Hindustan Times
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NDA: Cancel, probe Scorpene

ALLEGING MASSIVE kickbacks, the NDA on Monday demanded the scrapping of the Rs 18,798 crore Scorpene submarine deal, the arrest of "middleman" Abhishek Verma and his associates and a judicial probe. Reacting to the charge, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the deal would be cancelled if it was found that middlemen were involved.

india Updated: Mar 21, 2006 01:41 IST

ALLEGING MASSIVE kickbacks, the NDA on Monday demanded the scrapping of the Rs 18,798 crore Scorpene submarine deal, the arrest of "middleman" Abhishek Verma and his associates and a judicial probe. Reacting to the charge, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the deal would be cancelled if it was found that middlemen were involved.

Addressing a press conference, Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani, NDA convener George Fernandes and the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Jaswant Singh alleged that the scam was much bigger than the Bofors scandal and called for a judicial probe.

Relying on "five sensational exposes" by Outlook magazine and their own information, the NDA leaders said Thales -- the French company that supplied the Scorpene submarine -- had a "well-established" pattern of bribing political leaders.

The NDA leaders alleged that a "4 per cent commission of the contract amount -- Rs 500-700 crore -- was transferred to Verma by Thales.

They added that "there was evidence of the involvement of the Congress, some of its leaders and functionaries".

Advani and Singh said the deal was the tale of two interrelated scams. One was the Naval War Room Leak in which defence secrets, including information about the Scorpene deal, were reportedly spilled. The NDA leaders said Verma and his two business associates were beneficiaries of the leak.

The second concerned the alleged pact between Thales CEO Jean-Paul Perrier and Verma on a commitment of 4 per cent commission of the contracted amount. The NDA leaders said some "eloquent" e-mail between Verma and his foreign contacts, including Perrier, established the "highly incriminating" evidence of kickbacks. They alleged that e-mails showed Thales wanting an assurance "directly from the Lady" even after meeting Mukherjee and Congress treasurer Motilal Vora.

The NDA leaders said Verma, who was already under investigation in 12 cases of financial fraud, emerged as the chief middleman but Mukherjee went out of his way to absolve him of any role in the War Room leak case. They said there was "growing evidence" about a cover-up operation.

Mukherjee said he would make a comprehensive statement on the issue both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. Talking to reporters on the sidelines of the PC Memorial Lecture in Delhi on Monday, the defence minister said there was nothing to investigate in the Scorpene deal as of now. "So far as the Board Room leak is concerned, the CBI is investigating,'' he said.

Mukherjee said, thanks to the deal, the UPA government could reduce the cost of buying six submarines by more than Rs 300 crore. An integrity pact was also signed to keep out middlemen. PM Manmohan Singh refused to comment on the Opposition's charge. "I would not like to comment on something I have not seen,'' he told reporters.