Sonia, Manmohan dare BJP over AgustaWestland deal

Striking back

A combative Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday dismissed the bribery charges in the VVIP chopper scam as the BJP tried to corner the main opposition party.

Sonia Gandhi, whose name figures in a judgment by an Italian court, said she was "not afraid" and dubbed the allegations as false. Manmohan Singh and former defence minister A.K. Antony echoed the sentiment.

The Congress in turn accused the Narendra Modi government of trying to help the Italian firm which had been blacklisted.

The issue sparked tensions in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

A Milan court sent Finmeccanica's former CEO Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland ex-head Bruno Spagnolini to jail for false accounting and corruption in the sale of 12 VVIP choppers to India.

The court ruling refers to Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, her secretary Ahmad Patel and also former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi.

Congress members were in uproar in the Rajya Sabha when BJP's Subramanian Swamy named Sonia Gandhi in the Rajya Sabha during zero hour while speaking on the AgustaWestland deal.

"It is touching to see leader of opposition relying on (Christian) Michel for what he said orally but the high court of Italy have recorded a letter written by Michel stating that Sonia Gandhi is the main..." Swamy couldn't finish his sentence.

Congress members sprung to their feet and rushed towards the treasury benches aggressively.

Soon after, Sonia Gandhi hit back, saying she was "not afraid" of any inquiry and there was nothing to hide. She accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of indulging in character assassination.

"We have nothing to hide. Let them (government) take my name, I am not afraid of anyone because there is no basis to that allegation. They amount to calumny. Where is the proof? They are lying. This is part of their (BJP's) strategy of character assassination," Gandhi told the media.

Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy said Sonia Gandhi should ask the Italian court why she was named in the documents.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh also rebutted the charges. "There is no case. My party will respond."

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, whose name also figures in the Milan court ruling, said he was ready to hang if anything was found against him.

Former defence minister Antony dared the government to order a CBI probe and get it completed at "war footing".

He said it was the UPA government that ordered a CBI probe and blacklisted the company and accused the Modi government of trying to help the tainted company.

"They have shown criminal negligence in the case... This is a conspiracy to malign Congress leaders."

Antony said officials from the Indian government were present at the Milan court when the case was first taken up and there were no evidences against any Congress leaders.

The Congress said it had earlier proposed a Joint Parliamentary Committee on AgustaWestland, but BJP refused to participate or cooperate in the matter.

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