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Speedy probe into navy ‘honey trap’
- Panel hands in report on commodore

New Delhi, April 15: Investigators in the navy today submitted their report on a commodore after a compact disc with photographs showing him in intimate situations with women was delivered to the headquarters here last week.

The investigation, led by an admiral, was started after an anonymous complaint with the disc reached the naval headquarters. It alleged that the commodore was blackmailed into compromising in the negotiations over the price of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which is supposed to be India’s single biggest weapons platform.

The navy chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma, had assured defence minister A.K. Antony that the investigation would be concluded speedily.

The Indian Navy had last month agreed to a final price of $2.33 billion (Rs 10,500 crore) for the carrier after contracting it for about a third of that amount in 2004. One officer said the commodore could be asked to resign. He is now posted with the Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) after a three-year stint in Russia, during which the photographs allegedly showing his “immoral conduct unbecoming of an officer” were taken.

All the reasons that have contributed to the massive hike in the price of the outdated carrier could now be buried under the salacious details of a sex scandal that looks set to override concerns over the navy’s operational requirements and tardy procurement rules.

These rules were drafted, amended and executed not only by a commodore but — in the two decades since the negotiations for the warship first began — by successive defence ministers, governments and admirals.

The compact disc with photographs was also leaked to newspapers here, damaging the reputation of the officer who is a family man. The investigators were asked to find out if the commodore had abused his authority while being posted in Russia to leak information from the Indian Navy that agreed to re-negotiate the price of the Gorshkov (now rechristened the INS Vikramaditya) and finally agreed to a tag that is nearly three times the amount first contracted in 2004.

The commodore either walked into a honey trap or he is being made a scapegoat. But the investigations are likely to ignore the colossal waste of time and funds that the Gorshkov has come to represent.

Indeed, the navy’s record in negotiating its huge and costly acquisitions — not only from Russia — is far from spotless. In a scandal of strategic dimensions that has been conveniently forgotten, the navy even contracted a de-commissioned US warship, the erstwhile USS Trenton (now the INS Jalashwa), on the condition that it will not be used in offensive operations without an explicit nod from the Pentagon. There is little to explain why India has bought a warship if it cannot be used in war.

This was disclosed in a damning report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2007. The same authority came out with another report in July last year that said India was buying the Gorshkov — a used, gutted carrier whose refit is more than the price of a new carrier — after its cost doubled in the four years since it was contracted in January 2004 to more than $1.82 billion (Rs 7,207 crore).

Even more absurd, in January, the navy began receiving the first of the MiG 29K aircraft that is to be based on the carrier, even though the actual acquisition of the ship is probably another two years away.

Since the ship is not available, the navy is fashioning a ski-jump — the inclined runway on the deck of the carrier — on the ground at its base in INS Hansa, Goa, to train its aviators on the MiG 29K.

The Gorshkov was to be originally delivered in 2008. It is unlikely to be in India before 2013.

The commodore was posted in Severodvinsk, near the Sevmash Shipyard in North Russia, from 2005 to 2007.

He was commanding a detachment of 25 naval officers and sailors that was posted in the town to oversee the refit of the carrier. Most of the crew, including the commodore, were with their families for all or some of the time. He is said to have attended a few meetings of the Gorshkov price re-negotiating committee.

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