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Advani fires Scorpene torpedo

New Delhi, March 20: Lal Krishna Advani today described the alleged corruption in the Scorpene submarine deal as “much bigger than Bofors”, calling for the $3.5-billion contract to French firm Armaris to be immediately cancelled.

For the second time in a month, Advani took complete command of the BJP’s attack on the government after having earlier unilaterally announced his yatra following the Varanasi blasts.

Flanked by Jaswant Singh and George Fernandes, Advani, the leader of the Opposition, organised a power-point presentation on the Scorpene deal at his residence, not at the BJP office.

The presentation suggested involvement of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and defence minister Pranab Mukherjee in the contract under which six Scorpene submarines are to be built at the Mazagaon Docks in Mumbai.

He said the Scorpene deal and the de-freezing of Ottavio Quattrocchi’s bank accounts in London would top the National Democratic Alliance’s agenda for the rest of the budget session.

Mukherjee, who will make a statement in Parliament tomorrow, said the French company had told the government no broker was engaged by it to win the deal.

He said it was the first deal signed with an integrity pact that has stringent provisions against use of unfair means. If, despite the safeguards, the use of middlemen is established, the deal can be cancelled and the firm penalised, he added.

The NDA leaders made five main demands:

The contract be immediately terminated

Suppliers be made to pay a fine and refund payment made to middlemen with specified interest

Probe to fix political accountability

Arrest of middlemen ' Abhishek Verma, the son of a Congress leader and businessman, and his associates, if any

Action against foreigners involved in the naval war-room leak where officers are alleged to have passed on information to bidders for the submarine deal.

Advani and Jaswant alleged that information which had filtered out of the “naval war room” could have been used by middlemen. The navy has dismissed three officers, who have challenged the order in court.

The NDA leaders cited purported e-mail exchanges between Verma and his associates to imply that he had access to information available only to the Prime Minister, defence minister and the chief of naval staff. They quoted the e-mails and phone records to implicate Manmohan Singh and Sonia. Quoting the e-mails, they cited a reference to a “certain lady” in the Congress.

“Even after a meeting with the RM (Raksha Mantri), Thales (the French partner in Armaris) would want an assurance directly from the lady,” said Verma in the alleged e-mail.

Jaswant asked: “Who is this lady in the ruling establishment'” He cited Verma’s phone records to show he spoke to Motilal Vora, the Congress treasurer, at 1.33 pm on May 28, 2005.

The Scorpene deal was concluded in October.

“Information available with us reveals that in October 2005, after the UPA government cleared the Scorpene deal, Thales Charitable Trust transferred $50 million from its account number G625.712 (in UBS Bank, Zurich) to account number 0026324 of LGT Bank, Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Abhishek Verma has an account in the same bank,” Jaswant said.

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