Chopper scam: Jaswant Singh defends ex-IAF chief, says chopper norms changed during NDA regime

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 14, 2013 09:59 hrs

New Delhi: At a time when his party is targeting the government on the VVIP chopper deal, senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh today came to the rescue of beleagured former Air Force Chief S P Tyagi while admitting that the required parameters in the tender were changed during the NDA rule.

The former Defence Minister in the Vajpayee government said the guilty in the issue is an Italian company and people "have forgotten them".

He favoured expeditious and thorough probe into the allegations of payment of kickbacks in the Rs 3,600 crore deal.

"We should not make wild allegations against a former Air Chief. It is not in the interest of both the Air Force and the country. The probe is on. As Mr Tyagi himself is saying, the probe should be held early. Why don't you agree to his suggestion," Singh told reporters here today.

He said, "We should not make allegations against each other" till the truth is known.

Singh's comments assume significance in the context of high decibel attack launched by his party against the government, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh besides Congress chief Sonia Gandhi over the scam.

"I am pained that the guilty here is the Italian company. It seems that we have forgotten them," Singh said.

Singh, who was the Defence Minister in 2001, admitted that the tender specifications were changed during NDA rule.

"Yes, what he has said is true," Singh said when asked to comment on remarks by Tyagi that the specifications in the tender were changed in 2003 during the NDA rule.

At that time, George Fernandes was the Defence Minister.

Italian prosecutors have contended that the specifications were altered to make AgustaWestland's helicopters eligible in the contract for the 12 VVIP helicopter deal.

Among the changes made were the reduction in the altitude from 19000 ft to 15000 ft and it is alleged that the then National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra was instrumental in these alterations.

Supreme Court must monitor CBI probe: BJP

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday questioned the need for Union Human Resource and Development (HRD) Minister M.M. Pallam Raju to vouch for former Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Air Chief Marshal (Retired) S.P. Tyagi, and demanded that a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the entire case be monitored by the Supreme Court.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said that this party is astonished to find Raju, a former Minister of State for Defence, defending and vouching for the former air chief.

"Why a minister should defend an air force officer who is under cloud? He can deny the charges, but the minister should not speak for himself. This is nothing, but pressurising CBI before it starts the probe. So, this whole probe needs to be monitored by Supreme Court then only it will happen in a time bound manner and it will produce some results, otherwise this will also be a cover-up operation," said Javadekar.

"We will ensure that this time there is no cover-up, they cannot do the cover-up. Let us understand that Bofors and chopper deal both have common elements in it, both have Italian connection and both are Italian middlemen and that is why we need to be more cautious and the probe must be Supreme Court monitored," he added.

Raju, who was Minister of State for Defence when the deal for procuring 12 choppers from Italian firm Finmeccanica was signed in 2010, yesterday said he can 'vouch for the integrity' of former IAF chief.

"I think it was somebody who was distantly related to him... from what I read in the media. But I can vouch for his integrity," he told media here, while reacting to a query on allegations about Tyagi.

Raju further said Defence Minister A.K. Antony acts tough when such allegations are made and the ministry acts 'immediately' if any deviation from procedure brought in to its notice.

"Antony has a zero tolerance policy as far as these things are concerned. And anything is, if any deviation from procedure, or if any irregularities brought to the notice of the government, we act on it immediately," he said.

Amid sharp criticism from the opposition parties, the Congress-led UPA Government yesterday promised that the guilty would not be spared in the scandal involving bribery in the acquisition of expensive helicopters for use by VVIPs.

The Defence Minister said that strong action will be taken against those found guilty.

"Nobody will be spared whatever may be the consequences," Antony told media on the alleged Italian chopper scam.

The former Air Chief has rubbished allegations that he was paid a bribe to swing the approximately Rs.3600 crore Augusta Westland VVIP chopper deal, which involved procuring twelve choppers from the Italian firm Finmeccanica.

Expressing his shock and disbelief over his name being involved in the scam, Air Chief Marshal (Retired) Tyagi said: "These allegations are totally baseless and I am denying them categorically."

"The deal was signed in 2010, whereas I retired in 2007 itself. All changes in requirements and specifications have to be approved by Ministry of Defence," Tyagi told media here yesterday, while countering allegations that the tender for the helicopters may have been tweaked under his influence.

"The tender was issued at my time, but no specifications were changed in my tenure," he added.

Asked about his relations with three alleged middlemen for the deal, including one 'former IAF officer identified as Captain Tyagi', the former IAF chief said the officer concerned was his cousin, but added that their relationship did not go beyond this.

The copter scam has unfolded with the arrest of the head of a state-controlled Italian aerospace company.

Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi, who was arrested on Tuesday in Rome, had been under investigation for months and had denied any wrongdoing in the deal for the sale of 12 Augusta Westland helicopters to India in 2010.

The company is suspected of paying bribes of about Rs 362 crore in India to get orders for helicopters to ferry Indian VVIPs, prompting the government to order a CBI probe.

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