Two days after claiming in Supreme Court that Rafale documents were "stolen" from the Defence Ministry, the government's top lawyer on Friday clarified to news agency PTI that what he meant was petitioners used "photocopies of the original" papers deemed secret by the government.
The comments of Attorney General KK Venugopal that the Rafale fighter jet deal documents were stolen had caused a massive political row, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi targeting the government over the theft of such sensitive papers and seeking a criminal investigation. "Gayab ho gaya (it is gone) will be the government's new tagline," Rahul Gandhi had jeered yesterday. BSP chief Mayawati, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and NCP's Sharad Pawar too had taken a dig at the government.
The government had on Wednesday alleged the theft of classified documents after petitioners seeking an inquiry into the Rafale decision-making process drew the court's attention to a report by The Hindu highlighting that the deal signed by PM Modi was more expensive than the one negotiated by the previous Congress-led UPA government, because of France's refusal to provide bank guarantees.
"I am told that the opposition has alleged what was argued (in the Supreme Court) was that files had been stolen from the Defence Ministry. This is wholly incorrect. The statement that files have been stolen is wholly incorrect," he told news agency PTI, in an apparent damage-control exercise.
Mr Venugopal said the application filed by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushant had annexed three documents which were photocopies of the original.
PTI quoted official sources as saying the Attorney General's use of word stolen was probably "stronger" and could have been avoided.
With inputs from PTI