Following recent revelations, there can be little question that yet another defence purchase has been brought under suspicion on grounds of corruption.
Following recent revelations, there can be little question that yet another defence purchase has been brought under suspicion on grounds of corruption. The `3,546-crore deal to buy the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopters from Italian firm Finmeccanica through its British arm is being investigated by the Italian government. The firm’s CEO has been arrested for facilitating bribes of 51 million euros (approximately `370 crores) that were paid in Italy and in India. Whatever the fallout of these revelations in India’s domestic politics, and this must be expected to be negative for a government that is already reeling under controversies pertaining to 2G and coal allocations, the express task before the authorities is to unearth the names of the Indian recipients of the kickbacks that Italian investigators have brought to light. The defence ministry led by A.K. Antony, who is a monk in disguise when it comes to probity, has directed the CBI to step into the picture to investigate the fishy aspects of the controversial defence agreement. But, really, this should have been done a year ago when the first media reports began to surface. It’s simply not good enough to say that the helicopter company was not parting with information, as has been reported. The point is: why would it if it had paid bribes to bag the order in violation of the terms of the contract Surely, pressure had to be applied to compel the company to come clean. The surest way to do this was to threaten to cancel the contract even if deliveries had commenced. The Italians claim that bribes were paid to Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi when he headed the Indian Air Force. The retired Air Chief has denied this, saying the deal was signed in 2010 while he had retired in 2007. The only way to get at the truth is by investigating all aspects, as bribes can always be paid well after a deal is finalised in order to cover up wrongdoing. It appears that the initial technical requirements were altered to bring AgustaWestland into contention as it had not made the cut to begin with. So the obvious place to begin the inquiry is to check which officials were involved, and whether these were confined only to the military side. It is surprising that the CBI hasn’t already begun doing these things. So far it appears politicians are not involved in this mess. That should make it easier to find out. But it is amazing that bribes have been received in military purchases even under a transparency hawk like Mr Antony. This would suggest that detection is not easy and procedures must change, particularly since India has a large purchase programme for defence hardware.