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‘Greed’ to blame for scam: Antony

New Delhi, Feb. 19: Defence minister A.K. Antony has said that “something somewhere” was wrong with the Rs 3,550 crore contract for the VVIP choppers but lamented that not much could be done since “there is no end to human greed”.

Antony said a team from his ministry and the CBI had reached Italy and he would wait for their reports before taking action on the deal that could include cancellation of the contract with AgustaWestland.

However, he said the shadow of the scam should not loom over the armed forces’ modernisation efforts. “We have our security interests in an unstable neighbourhood,” he said. 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 Shashindra Pal Tyagi. Tyagi and his three cousins have denied the charges.

The defence minister said procedures were followed. “In spite of that, one thing is clear that something happened somewhere.”

But, echoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and foreign minister Salman Khurshid, he said: “Our hands are clean and we have nothing to hide.”

Antony 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 reports in newspapers that suggested he was contemplating resignation.

The 12 Agusta Westland 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 past two years because of malpractices. But this had not deterred the corrupt.

He promised that the government would unearth the truth. “Whosoever is responsible, must be brought to justice at the earliest,” he said, adding that the government would ensure maximum punishment to the guilty.

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