Antony hits back at BJP on chopper deal

Kochi: A day after the BJP targeted him over the AgustaWestland deal, former Defence Minister A K Antony hit back at the ruling party, saying "the deviation" in the tender process for purchasing the VVIP helicopters started in 2003 during the NDA rule headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

"AgustaWestland was not qualified to participate in the global tender process initiated by the Government in 2002 to purchase choppers to carry VVIPs. It could enter the tender process after a meeting of Airforce, Defence officials convened by then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra in 2003 decided to relax norms," Antony said.

Narrating the chronology of events leading to the choice of AgustaWestland for supplying VVIP helicopters, he said initially, when the operational requirements were framed, it was specified that the helicopter should be able to fly at 6000 metre height.

"But the Brajesh Mishra-chaired meeting in 2003 decided to reduce the operational requirement to 4500 metre height. That meeting also decided to make 1.80 metre cabin height mandatory for the helicopter. The decision helped AgustaWestland to participate in the tender process. The deviation started there...then," Antony told a meet-the-press programme organised by the Ernakulam Press Club here.
The process for acquiring the helicopters for carrying VVIPs started during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure, he said.

Antony claimed that he became suspicious about the deal when he, as the Defence Minister, observed the proceedings of a case in an Italian court.

"I had said there is suspected to be corruption in the deal. Based on this observation, the UPA government decided to order CBI probe into the AgustaWestland deal," Antony said.

The senior Congress leader, who is in the midst of electioneering for UDF candidates contesting the assembly polls, said those who have taken bribe in the case should be brought to book and punished.

Accusing the Narendra Modi government of trying to create a smokescreen into the whole episode, he said, "you are ruling the nation. Take action. Complete the probe into the case at the earliest. Punish the bribe givers and bribe takers."

Asked if he was prepared for a questioning by Enforcement Directorate, Antony said, "Don't show any mercy towards me. Whatever action can be taken as per law, take it."

Union Minister Ravishankar Prasad had yesterday attacked Antony, saying since he held the Defence portfolio when the contract was awarded to the foreign firm in 2010, he has to explain who was driving the controversial deal for supplying VVIP helicopters to IAF.

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