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Governor in witness box

New Delhi, June 27: M.K. Narayanan, who is in the middle of winding up as Bengal governor, today became the first occupant of a Raj Bhavan to be interviewed as a witness by the CBI in a suspected corruption case.

The CBI is probing allegations that a bribe was paid to change specifications so that AgustaWestland, an Anglo-Italian company, could bid for the deal that was eventually scrapped by the UPA government.

Narayanan, 80, recorded his statement and answered questions on a meeting in March 2005 when a decision was taken to reduce the service ceiling (the altitude at which a helicopter can fly) from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres.

PTI quoted agency sources as saying the governor said his predecessor in the NDA government, Brajesh Mishra, had decided to lower the service ceiling in December 2003.

CBI officers said Narayanan was a witness in the case because he was the national security adviser then but no question had been raised about his personal integrity.

“Senior officers of the anti-corruption wing went to Calcutta today and recorded Narayanan’s statement at Raj Bhavan,” said Vineeta Thakur, DIG, CBI.

Another officer said: “Narayanan, also a former director of the Intelligence Bureau, was asked to give a statement as well as clarifications during the two-hour-long examination relating to a meeting on March 1, 2005. At that meeting, a decision was taken to reduce the service ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres.”

“Last week, we had sent him a questionnaire. He has answered all our queries relating to the deal,” the official added.

The Centre had scrapped the AgustaWestland deal following suspicion that it had violated an “integrity pact” by using agents to swing the deal. The money trail is yet to be conclusively established.

The CBI had registered a case against former IAF chief S.P. Tyagi and 13 others, including his cousins and European middlemen.

The CBI is now expected to record the statement of Goa governor B.V. Wanchoo as he was also part of the meeting in 2005. Wanchoo was the chief of the Special Protection Group (SPG) guarding the Prime Minister before he was appointed governor.

The CBI’s request to question Narayanan and Wanchoo was rejected by the law ministry during the UPA regime, prompting the agency to send a request to President Pranab Mukherjee’s secretariat seeking permission to record their statements as witnesses.

A CBI officer today said there was no legal bar in questioning and recording the statements of serving governors as witnesses in a case.

In the chopper case, the CBI has so far questioned several retired bureaucrats, including former cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi and Comptroller and Auditor General Shashikant Sharma who was the then defence secretary.

In April, former secretary (security) Sudhir Kumar, former SPG inspector-general N. Ramachandran and former special secretary (acquisition) in the defence ministry, H.C. Gupta, were examined by the agency.