Holding that the government “cannot allow corruption” in military deals, Defence Minister AK Antony said yesterday that “strongest action” would be taken if the CBI detects bribery in the Rs 403 crore deal for 12 VVIP AgustaWestland helicopters for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
“We have requested CBI for an early inquiry. I can assure you that the moment we get a report from CBI, we will take strongest action provided in the integrity pact... that includes cancellation of the contract and blacklisting the companies. But before CBI’s report, I don’t want to jump to any conclusion,” Antony said.
The defence ministry on Tuesday ordered a CBI probe into the 2010 deal following the arrest of the helicopter’s Italian manufacturer Finmeccanica’s chief on charges of graft in the contract.
“We are examining everything. If (contractual) terms have been violated, we will take the strongest action. We are not bothered about who they are or how big they are,” Antony added. He noted that in the recent past, the government had blacklisted six firms, four of which were “big” international companies. “Nobody will be spared.”
The minister sought to downplay a media report on the alleged involvement of then IAF chief SP Tyagi, during whose tenure the AgustaWestland deal was negotiated. “It is shocking for me and I am sure it is shocking for everybody... it’s bad news for the entire air force, it’s horrifying,” Tyagi told a TV channel.
“The charge was I was bribed to tweak a change in requirement to suit Agusta... Changes are not made by the Air Headquarters... final changes have to be approved by the minister of defence. Air headquarters can recommend it. But to the best of my knowledge Air Headquarters have not recommended any changes. I am shocked... I have no clue what this is all about,” he said.
“There should be an inquiry, only then can the facts be established,” Tyagi said. Antony also denied the suggestion that the IAF’s original requirements were modified to suit the Italian firm. “The recommendation was made by the IAF and the SPG on security considerations. The government accepted this,” Antony added.
Questioned whether other deals with Finmeccanica — for instance a Rs 500 crore deal for radars for the Indian Navy —would also be affected, Antony said this would also depend on the CBI report on the chopper deal.