"Nobody will be spared whatever may be the consequences,"Defence Minister A K Antony told reporters on the alleged Italian chopper scam.Further adding that "Even the contract can be scrapped."
"After the CBI report, we will take serious action that may include cancelling the deal," he said. "We don't want to jump the gun. We can get our money back even at this stage," Antony said on the Rs 3600 crore deal.
The government had requested the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for an early inquiry into the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal and would take “strongest action” after it was completed, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said on Wednesday.
“We have requested CBI for an early inquiry. I can assure you that the moment we get a report from CBI we will take a 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 into any conclusion,” Mr. Antony said.
“At the moment I’m not in a position to say anything,” he added.
The Indian defence ministry had on Tuesday ordered a CBI probe into the $750 million deal for 12 VVIP AgustaWestland helicopters following the arrest of its Italian manufacturer Finmeccanica’s chief on charges of graft in the contract.
This is not the first time that the allegations have surfaced. Three of the helicopters have already been delivered to the Indian Air Force (IAF), the first of them in December 2010.
The contract for the helicopters had been signed in February 2010.
The IAF has sought the AgustaWestland choppers as a replacement for its Mi-17 cargo helicopters that have been modified for VVIP deployment. The Comptroller and Auditor General had made an adverse comment, saying it was a waste of resources.
The Ministry of Defence also decided to put on hold the receipt of the remaining nine of the 12 helicopters for which the Rs 3600 crore deal was struck in 2010.
Giuseppe Orsi, the head of Italian defence and aerospace giant Finmeccanica, was arrested on Monday in relation to a probe into international corruption.
He is suspected of involvement in the payment of bribes regarding the sale to the Indian government of 12 helicopters produced by Finmeccanica’s subsidiary AgustaWestland.
Mr. Antony said CBI has been asked to give an early report on its probe into alleged kickbacks in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal.
“Once we get the preliminary inquiry report from CBI, strongest action will be taken against those found guilty,” he said.
Asked about reports of the alleged role of former IAF chief SP Tyagi in the deal, the Minister said, “I have no information. After the CBI report, we will take serious action that may include cancelling the deal,” he said.
“We don’t want to jump the gun. We can get our money back even at this stage,” Mr. Antony said on the Rs 3600 crore deal.
Asked whether the money paid to the Italian firm so far can be claimed back by the Indian government, he said, “If the Indian government paid any amount of the money, as per the provisions of the integrity pact, we can get back the entire money we paid to the vendor.”
He mentioned that the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) governing all defence deals takes care of the integrity pact by the foreign vendors.
“Not a single pie from the Indian government we will lose. As per the DPP, any contract beyond Rs 300 crores, before finalising the contract the vendor will have to sign an integrity pact with the Government of India, agreeing to our conditions. If they violate that condition, they are liable to criminal action,” he said.
The Defence Minister said companies are liable to be prosecuted and blacklisted for their lapses.
He referred to the actions taken by the government in such cases, where six foreign defence firms were blacklisted.
“I told you earlier that a CBI inquiry... after their first report, they recommended certain actions against companies. The moment we received the complaint, we did not hesitate, we blacklisted six companies. Out of that four are most powerful international companies,” he said.
Mr. Antony stressed that tough action will be taken against the guilty, despite their stature.
“We are not bothered about who the companies are, how strong they are and how influential they are. But everything depends on the CBI inquiry. The moment we get a report from the CBI, whoever is found guilty, Indian or foreigners, we will take strongest action against them. They will have to pay the price for their lapses,” he said.
Mr. Antony said the Indian government has been trying to get details from Italy since the beginning of the controversy around a year ago.
After we saw reports, the Indian media reports of arrests and investigation going on in Italy, immediately we wrote to the Indian Ambassador in Italy to get the details from the Italian government and also the prosecutor who is conducting the inquiry,” he said.
The second step, he said, was to involve the External Affairs Ministry to seek a report from governments of Italy and Britain.
“The second step (was) through the Ministry of External Affairs. Our government contacted the Government of Italy and Government of United Kingdom because AugustaWestland is a British company and major shareholder is British. MEA wrote to both the countries again,” he said.
From the day one we have been trying to find the truth, Mr.Antony said, adding that the countries were specifically asked about alleged involvement of some Indian in the scam.
“Second report came on involvement of some Indian we again asked both the government is it true about this allegations. Is it true that Indians are involved,” he said.
Asked whether the scam will impact other deals under consideration with AugustaWestland and Finmeccanica, Antony said such an action will depend on the result of CBI inquiry.
“Let CBI inquire this. Everything depends on CBI inquiry on this... We have already given this issue to the CBI. Let us see the progress of CBI inquiry. At any stage of the inquiry, if anybody is guilty, anywhere in the deals, they will have to pay the price,” he said.
He said no time line has been fixed for the CBI to give its report.