Choppergate: Antony rules out resignation

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 19, 2013 13:33 hrs

Defence Miniser AK Antony on Tuesday ruled out resigning over the AugustaWestland chopper scam and said there is no rift in the government or with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) over the deal.

He told a press conference that the government is ready to face Parliament over the issue. "There is no political decision in India in procurement [defence purchase]," he said.

He said if there is any foul play action will be taken and "we will show no mercy."

"We are trying to get details of the investigation from the Italian government," said Antony.

Antony informed that six companies were blacklisted and that is a warning though "greedy people are working around the world."

He said "there is no question of a rift with the Ministry of External Affairs" and assured that the deal will be scrapped if any bribery was proved.

Earlier, Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who had said the issue of AgustaWestland chopper scam should not be politicised, said there is no differences in government over the issue amid reports of the PMO expressing unhappiness over the suggestion of scrapping the deal by the Defence Ministry.

"I have not expressed any reservation at all. I only said whatever decision taken has to be a collective decision," Khurshid said, reacting to reports that he was against scrapping of the deal in tune with the PMO (Prime Minister´s Office).

Khurshid said no decision should be taken just based on media reports and the government has nothing to hide.

"It is outrightly objective procedure that has been followed. Keeping all that in mind, the Defence Ministry will recommend what it thinks is the appropriate decision," Khurshid said speaking to journalists.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already attacked the government over the differences over scrapping of the deal.

The opposition BJP has dragged the Gandhi family´s name in the unfolding AgustaWestland chopper scam and demanded a court monitored probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the defence purchase scandal.

BJP former MP Kirit Somaiya in a letter on Friday to the investigating agency CBI said there are "prominent signs of Indian connection in the AgustaWestland chopper deal, very similar to Bofors scam."

"According to the Italian newspaper Lettera 43, main commission agent Christian Michel´s late father was ´close to the Congress party´, and the other middleman, Guido Ralph Haschke, was a Director of Emaar-MGF," said Somaiya.

"Emaar MGF is a real estate company owned by, the late Ved Prakash Gupta with the late S K Singh being one of the promoters and shareholders of the company. S.K. Singh is father of Kanishka Singh who is close to Rahul Gandhi and served as his political secretary," wrote Somaiya.

"It is believed that British citizen Michel, had received 60 per cent (around `210 crore) of the kickback amount of 51 million Euros (around `360 crore) from the Finmeccanica, the manufactures of AgustaWestland choppers," he wrote.

"His contacts are stronger especially with the Indian Defence, that he has inherited from his father, Wolfgang Max Michel Richard, a British businessman who was very active in India between 80s and 90s and was close to the Congress party," wrote Somiya.

Reaction to the BJP´s allegation, Khurshid said: "We are open to dialogue on this and decision has to be taken by concerned agencies."

He told a TV channel that the BJP should talk to Congress rather than scream and shout since one should not forget that there were decisions that were taken in NDA regime that led to the conclusion of the contract.

Meanwhile, the Italian prosecutors, who named former Air Force chief SP Tyagi as a part of the alleged payment of kickbacks in the Rs 3600 crore purchase deal of VVIP choppers by India from AugustaWestland, the Anglo-Italian helicopter company owned by Italy´s Finmeccanica, said they have enough evidence against Tyagi for framing the charges.

"We cannot get into specifics but all I can tell you is that we have all the evidence to nail Shashi Tyagi. This includes wire taps,´´ the prosecutors´ source told NDTV.

There are allegations of kickbacks worth 50 million euros in the scam, according to media reports.

A joint Indian investigating team of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) has left for Italy on Tuesday.

The report by the investigators said that an alleged middleman for helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland was seen touching the feet of former Air Force chief SP Tyagi.

The scandal allegedly took place during the tenure of Tyagi who headed the air force from 2004 to 2007.

Tyagi has however, denied the allegations and has said that he met one of the alleged AgustaWestland middlemen just once contrary to the charges of "six or seven" meetings.

The middleman Ralph Haschke has "confessed" that he met Tyagi six or seven times and once greeted him by touching his feet as a sign of respect, the Italian prosecutors have said.

The Italian inquiry has also found that in 2003, a serving Brigadier of the Indian Army allegedly demanded $5 million dollars to influence a contract for 197 light helicopters in favour of AgustaWestland.

Italian police arrested Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of state-controlled Italian defence and aerospace giant Finmeccanica Giuseppe Orsi in Rome for alleged bribes paid in order to secure the deal.

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