Did the government, accused by the opposition of inaction for months in the 4000-crore VVIP helicopter deal controversy, ignore several warnings last year about continued activities of middlemen in defence deals?
Six letters purportedly written by a US attorney C. Edmonds Allen to senior ministers like AK Antony, P Chidambaram and Anand Sharma and top officials of investigation agencies like the CBI early last year, have been accessed by NDTV. In these, Mr Allen has complained that his former business associate, Abhishek Verma, continued to interact freely with defence ministry officials despite being blacklisted by the Ministry.
Abhishek Verma, a controversial businessman, is now in Tihar jail on charges of shady arms dealings. He was arrested in Dec 2012. Mr Allen, who is the president of New-York based company Ganton, wrote the letters to the Indian government between January and March 2012, disclosing alleged details of illicit and allegedly corrupt practices involving Mr Verma.
According to Mr Allen's letters, he and Mr Verma became partners in 2002. In 2006, Mr Verma was arrested in what is called the Navy war room leak case, and his company and other associated firms were blacklisted by the Defence Ministry. Mr Allen alleges that after being granted bail in 2008, Mr Verma re-established contact with the Defence Ministry, and even continued to visit the ministry office in New Delhi. He said in his letters that Mr Verma and he had ceased to be partners in 2010 and he feared that Mr Verma would misuse the name of his company.
Mr Allen has accused his former business associate of money laundering, tax evasion and in his letters, suggested investigations into what he alleged was Mr Verma's continued role as a middleman receiving commissions for work in the ministry.
There is no link yet established between Mr Verma and the 4000-crore helicopter deal now under CBI investigation, in which, Italian prosecutors allege British firm Agusta Westland paid crores of rupees in bribe to Indian officials through middleman to get the contract for the supply of 12 helicopters for use by VVIPs. But, Mr Allen's letters raise questions on whether the Indian government ignored his warning that alleged middlemen like Mr Verma continued to have access to the defence ministry. In India, defence deals are meant to be struck without middlemen or commissions.