New Delhi: In take-no-prisoners speeches, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar today outlined for parliament why the government believes the Congress designed a corrupt deal to buy Agusta Westland helicopters, and then ducked taking any real action when it was in power.
- Defence Minister speaks on chopper scam for the second day in Parliament
- UPA relaxed rules so Agusta could bag contract for VVIP choppers, he says
- AgustaWestland deal for 12 choppers cancelled in 2014 over corruption
In protests, the Congress walked out of the Lok Sabha during a lengthy debate, demanding an investigation on the Agusta deal that will be monitored by the Supreme Court. Before that, the defense of the Congress was presented by Jyotiraditya Scindia, who said of party chief Sonia Gandhi, "She is a sherni (lioness)...they are scared of her".
The Defence Minister said the Agusta scam could have been stopped in 2012, when executives of the Anglo-Italian firm were arrested in Italy. Instead, he said, the Congress-led government waited a full two years - till 2014 - to cancel the contract for a dozen helicopters for the use of VVIPs.
Anurag Thakur of the BJP alleged that after the Agusta order was scrapped, a Congress parliamentarian travelled secretly to Dubai to meet with Christian Michel, a middleman for the deal, whose extradition India has sought. Mr Michel, a UK citizen, has denied bribing Congress leaders.
Like when the deal with Agusta was cancelled, it is, once again, developments in Italy that have resuscitated the Agusta scam. A few weeks ago, a Milan court convicted Agusta officers for paying bribes in India. The judge referred to documents seized from middlemen and Agusta executives. In them, Congress leaders including party president Mrs Gandhi are referred to. The judge has said that though there is evidence that Indian politicians and bureaucrats were bought, it is up to India to uncover the guilty - a comment Mr Parrikar referenced in his speech.
"What we could not do in Bofors, we may be able to do now," Mr Parrikar said cuttingly, referencing a decades-old corruption scandal in defense that tainted Mrs Gandhi's husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, though he was not convicted of any charges.