Congress, BJP trade barbs over chopper deal

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 14, 2013 18:16 hrs

New Delhi: The blame game over the $750-million VVIP chopper deal continued Thursday with the Congress-led government slamming opposition BJP for comparing the deal with Bofors scam and former defence minister Jaswant Singh supporting former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi alleged to be involved in the case.

"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," BJP leader Jaswant Singh said.

"The probe is on. As Air Chief Marshal (retd) Tyagi himself is saying, the probe should be held early. Why don't you agree to his suggestion?" he said.

He stressed on quick and fair probe into the allegations.

"We need an expeditious and fair probe. Don't rush to conclusions and denigrate the former air force chief. A thorough probe must be conducted into the entire matter so that all hidden facts are cleared and the truth comes out," he said.

Tyagi denied any wrongdoing after a preliminary inquiry report filed by prosecutors in Italy Tuesday sought to link him to the corruption charges.

A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe has been ordered into the deal for the 12 VVIP AgustaWestland helicopters following the arrest of the helicopter's Italian manufacturer Finmeccanica's chief on charges of graft in the contract in Italy.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari slammed the BJP for comparing the deal with the Bofors scam of the 1980s.

He said the government has not been hesitant in taking action.

"The chopper deal process was initiated during the NDA government and culminated under the UPA government. Certain issues have come out about the deal. The government has addressed them by ordering a CBI inquiry," Tewari told journalists at the Indian Women's Press Corps.

"There has been no foot dragging on the issue," he said.

"It's extremely dangerous to draw parallel to some other investigation. In February 2004, the court quashed Bofors charges (but) the BJP-led government at that time did not even file a petition challenging it. Rather than being sensational, let the investigation play it out," he said.

BJP leader Ravishankar Prasad Wednesday said the chopper deal was a "Bofors in making".

In the Bofors scam that broke out in the late 1980s, several Congress leaders were accused of receiving kickbacks from Swedish firm Bofors AB for a bid to supply India 155-mm field howitzers.

Amid corruption allegations clouding India's AgustaWestland chopper deal, visiting French President Francois Hollande said it would do "nothing contrary to the rules of trade" that were based on the principles of competitiveness and fairness.

France has major defence dealings with India. Besides the Rafale jet, negotiations are also on for India's $2-billion light utility helicopter (LUH) programme. Eurocopter of France is one of the competitive bidders to sell 197 LUHs to India.

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