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Antony gets stink of ‘something wrong’

Antony with Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne at an event in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Reuters)

New Delhi, Feb. 19: A.K. Antony has smelt “something somewhere” that is wrong in the Rs 3,550 crore contract for the VVIP “Skyfall” choppers but lamented that there is not much to be done when “there is no end to human greed and greedy people were working round the world”.

The defence minister said a team from his ministry and the CBI has reached Italy and he would wait for their reports before taking action on the deal, which could include cancellation of the contract with AgustaWestland.

But Antony said he was also worried that the shadow of the scam should not loom over the armed forces’ modernisation effort “because we have our security interests in an unstable neighbourhood”.

The impending withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan in 2014, he warned, could make India’s neighbourhood volatile and the Indian military must be prepared for that.

Italian investigators have found evidence in a preliminary report that executives of Finmeccanica, the holding company of AgustaWestland, were contracting agents to pay-off cousins of former Air Chief Marshal (retired) Shashindra Pal Tyagi.

Tyagi and his three cousins have denied the charges.

Antony said we “followed all the procedures. In spite of that one thing is clear that something happened somewhere” but, like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and foreign affairs minister Salman Khurshid, he insisted that “our hands are clean and we have nothing to hide”.

The defence minister said he was preparing to debate the charges from the Opposition that his ministry had done little to check corruption in Parliament.

“I will do my duty. I am now getting ready for the Parliament session. We will explain everything to Parliament,” he said when asked to comment on newspaper reports suggesting that he was contemplating resigning.

The 12 AgustaWestland 101 luxury helicopters were contracted on February 8, 2010, under Antony’s charge. But it was processed through the tenures of his predecessors, Pranab Mukherjee and George Fernandes.

Antony said he had set a precedent by blacklisting six firms “including four internationally powerful companies” in the last two years because of malpractices. But this had not deterred the corrupt.

He promised that the government will unearth the truth and “whosoever is responsible, must be brought to justice at the earliest and then ensure maximum punishment. It is the resolve of the entire government”.

Antony said the decision to send a showcause notice to AgustaWestland and order a CBI probe was taken after the CEO of Finmeccanica was arrested.

Finmeccanica CEO Giueseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini were arrested by Italian investigators on charges of funnelling kickbacks totalling Rs 362 crore to agents in Europe and India.