Chopper deal: Ready for any discussion in parliament, says PM

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 18, 2013 17:42 hrs

New Delhi: The government was "ready for any discussion" including the VVIP chopper deal in parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday as the BJP signalled it would raise the issue forcefully in the budget session beginning Feb 21.

A team of CBI and defence ministry officials left for Italy Monday to get more information on the alleged kickbacks in the $750 mn (Rs.3,600 crore) chopper deal.

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said no "concrete material" was received from Italy to substantiate the corruption allegations.

He was non-committal on whether the issue would be discussed with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron as the Italian company's helicopter subsidiary is Britain-based.

"Parliament is the appropriate forum to discuss all issues raised by the opposition. We are ready for any discussion," the prime minister told reporters on the sidelines of a function at Rashtrapati Bhavan to queries about the opposition threat to disrupt parliament over the deal.

"We have nothing to hide," he added.

The Congress also said that the BJP could ask any question in parliament.

The BJP has accused the government of covering up the conspiracy concerning kickbacks in the chopper deal and sought to make comparison with the Bofors howitzer scam.

BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said the party would raise the chopper deal in parliament and attacked Defence Minister A.K. Antony saying he was "guilty" too.

"Antony has given several orders to inquire into the monumental chopper scam. He is struggling to keep his Mr. Clean image on the forefront by desperately ordering an inquiry and issuing a notice to cancel the deal," Rudy said.

"He has been the defence minister since October 2006 and is guilty of what happened under him as minister," Rudy added.

In response, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said: "Whatever clarifications the BJP needs, they should come and ask in the house. We have never said that we won't reply to their questions. So, why are they shying away from coming to parliament and raising these issues," she told reporters.

Khurshid told reporters that the government has not been able to get any solid proof from Italy on the kickbacks in the February 2010 deal for 12 AW101 helicopters from Finmeccanica's subsidiary AgustaWestland for the Indian Air Force's elite Communication Squadron, which ferries the president, the prime minister and other VVIPs.

"Even now we are not being able to get concrete material from Italians where matter has proceeded, arrests have been made," Khurshid said.

"Up to this point they (Italian government) haven't indicated anything and according to their rules they are unable to share anything with us. So I think it is a little premature to jump into conclusion what we can get and from where," he said.

"The best efforts we could make we are making. We have sent teams (to Italy). They will come back with information which we can analyze and comment on," Khurshid added.

The minister was non-committal if the issue will be on the agenda in talks with Cameron, who arrived in India on a three-day trip Monday.

"I know what the agenda was a week ago but I don't know what the agenda is now or if there is a revised agenda at all," Khurshid said.

The defence ministry Friday initiated action for cancellation of the chopper contract. It also issued a formal show-cause notice to AgustaWestland to explain within a week why the contract should not be cancelled.

The matter came into the limelight after Italian agencies arrested Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi for alleged corruption to seal the deal last week.

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