Govt rejects charge that PM struck deal with Italy on chopper


The government tonight rebutted allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had struck a deal with Italy on AgustaWestland case and said the central issue was corruption and any other effort to divert from it was "misleading".

It also termed attempts to link NSA Ajit Doval and Principal Secretary to PM Nripendra Mishra to one of the accused as "totally baseless assertion and indicative of malicious intent".

"Those who cannot see Prime Minister succeed even hint at him cutting a deal. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Prime Minister Modi did not cut any deal of any sort," the government said in a late night statement.

It added that a few have even sought to link one of the accused with Doval and Mishra. "This is a totally baseless assertion, devoid of reason and logic, and indicative of malicious intent. In reality, there is no such connection," it said.

The statement said it is indeed tragic that a small section of the Indian polity has attempted, "unsuccessfully", to divert and defuse the public discourse on this matter.

They question the speed of the government processes, especially the investigation but, they do not ask how the corrupt influenced the process of acquisition in the first place and bled the nation, it said.

"They do not admit corruption; they instead boldly proclaim, 'catch us if you can'," it said adding that government has taken effective action to bring out the truth and will leave no stone unturned in pursuing all means to bring to justice the corrupt and the wrong-doers in this case.

"The investigative agencies remain determined to bring to justice the key perpetrators of this misdeed, both inside and outside the country," it said.

In the matter pertaining to acquisition of AgustaWestland helicopters, the undisputed central issue that stands out is corruption, especially bribery, the statement said.

"Any other line of assumption, approach and effort, as is being attempted in some quarters, is misleading, tries to hide the wrong-doers and is driven by instincts of self preservation," it said.

On opposition allegations about helicopters purchased by the governments of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the statement said the Centre has been proactive in seeking response.

"They ask as to whey did Modi government not take any action against Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Dr Raman Singh despite an indictment of Chhattisgarh government by CAG in purchase of AgustaWestland Helicopter, which led to loss to public exchequer (according to CAG) of Rs 65 lakh?

"But, the government has been proactive in seeking response from the State governments also. As per the State Government of Chattisgarh, the Public Accounts Committee of the Chattisgarh Vidhan Sabha took cognizance of the CAG report regarding the acquisition that was done in 2007, and took the evidence of State Government officials. After analyzing the evidence of officials and the report of the State Government, the PAC closed the matter," the statement said.

Similarly, as per the Rajasthan government, the alleged loss to public exchequer according to CAG was not on account of any irregularity in the procurement process, but due to the expenditure incurred on account of lack of planning and basic infrastructure prior to procurement, such as pilot training and maintenance, it said adding that in this case too, the acquisition was done in 2005.

"The government appeals to the countrymen to recognize the nature and depth of corruption in AgustaWestland case. The investigative agencies will stay their course in unveiling the corrupt and holding them accountable to our public," it said.

Seeking to counter Opposition allegation, the government said ever since it was given the responsibility to serve the people, it has acted with speed, drive and purpose to empower the country's masses.

"It continues to relentlessly pursue fearless and transparent governance. One of the core goals of our governance has been to unearth and uproot corruption, and punish the corrupt," it said.

The government has acted proactively and with alacrity against Agusta Westland International and Finmeccanica, it said while stressing that it was on July 3, 2014 that all procurement/acquisition cases in the pipeline of six companies figuring in the CBI FIR was put on hold.

"In doing so, we did not let the preparedness of our defence forces suffer. At the same time, we also ensured that no new capital procurement was made thereafter from these companies in the tenure of the present government," it said.

It said that in their drive to divert the public attention from their own corruption, some have said that the Modi government permitted AugustaWestland to bid for 100 Naval Utility Helicopters in April, 2015.

"The fact is that a techno-commercial Request for Proposal (RFP) for Naval Utility Helicopters was issued to eight vendors on August 4, 2012. In response to the RFP, Eurocopters, France and Agusta Westland S.p.A Italy submitted their techno-commercial proposals on March, 4 2013. RFP of the procurement case was retracted by the government on October 13, 2014.

"The Indian Navy has hosted on the website a Request for Information for more than 100 Naval Utility Helicopter in October 2014. No Request for Proposal has been issued, therefore the question of permitting Agusta Westland to bid for the Naval Utility Helicopter in April 2015 does not arise. The government is exploring whether their manufacturing can be pursued under 'Make in India'," it said.

Talking about the "core issue" of corruption, the government said timeline of actions taken by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate clearly shows due rigour and diligence with which these agencies have pursued all aspects of their investigations, including the arrest and extradition of three foreign nationals namely - Carlo Gerosa, Guido Haschke Ralph and Christian Michel James.

It added that CBI has so far investigated over 100 witnesses.

Giving details it said in September and November 2014, "couple of accused" have been arrested and their property attached. A criminal complaint was also filed. Letter of Requests were sent out by ED and CBI to Mauritius (July 2013), Tunisia and Italy (December 2013), British Virgin Islands, Singapore and U.K. (September 2014), UAE and Switzerland (December 2014). The agencies are continuing to pursue responses to the LRs from the countries concerned, it said.

The statement added that an open-ended non-bailable arrest warrant was issued by CBI against Michel on September 24, 2015.

Red Corner notices were issued in December 2015 and January 2016 through Interpol under Prevention of Money Laundering Act and Prevention of Corruption Act on charges of conspiracy and abuse of official position in giving favours to AWIL, it said.

A request for provisional arrest for the purpose of extradition was made to the UK authorities on January 4, 2016 by CBI, it said.

Enforcement Directorate has also separately sent a Red Corner seeking arrest and a request for his extradition from the UK on February 29, 2016, the statement said.

By asking why did Prime Minister and BJP government not take any action on the alleged offer dated November 8, 2015 made by Michael to be questioned by CBI and ED including on Indian soil, "some have even tried to side with a wanted criminal", it said, "It is well known that any understanding/agreement with an accused outside the frame of law is a criminal act in itself. James Christian Michael is a criminal wanted by the Indian law enforcement agencies.

"We are pursuing all legal means to arrest him and have him extradited to India," it said, adding that Michel should submit himself to the Indian legal system rather than make "elliptical references to offers that are suspect in intent and reality".

"We are determined that the law must take its course against Michel and his associates in this matter," the statement said.

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