London, June 14: A British newspaper alleged today that BAE Systems, a weapons manufacturer, was using underhand means, including offering bribes via an agent, to persuade India to clinch a £2-billion Hawk fighter/trainer deal.
The allegation was rejected by a spokesman for the company, who told The Guardian: “It does not matter what is said in whatever manufactured document you have. BAE does not and has not used agents in India.”
The Guardian claimed that the allegations of corruption and bribery were new but, in fact, they appear to relate to tapes made by Tehelka.com.
Since then, the story of the Hawk deal has moved on. In London, it has never been clear whether India was ever serious about the deal or merely wanted to string the British along. Another theory is that India was moderately keen at one stage but, in recent years, “other offers have come along, including a Czech one, with American collaboration”.
The war in Afghanistan and Iraq and tension on the LoC complicated matters.
There are lobbies in London which took the Pakistani side and argued that if weapons could not be sold to Pakistan at a time when the two countries were apparently on the verge of war, they should not be sold to India, either.
Politicians and others sympathetic to Pakistan are obviously doing their bit to undermine British attempts to sell the Hawk to India.
“Who would they be doing a favour to'” a well-informed but cynical source told The Telegraph. “There are reports that the RAF itself is not too keen on the Hawk.”
This suggests that the Indians are not too unhappy that The Guardian and others are publishing stories of wrongdoing by BAE Systems in India. This might allow India to slip out of a deal. In the murky world of defence procurement, nothing is quite what it seems.
This is the background against which today’s Guardian report, “BAE faces corruption claims around world: Disclosures on Czech deal to be referred to police,” has to be seen.
The Guardian reported: “Roger Berry, the Labour chairman of the Commons quadripartite committee that examines the arms trade, said of the Guardian’s series that he was writing to the government demanding answers. ‘These are extremely important issues which Parliament should investigate.’”
The paper added: “He said companies could be made to declare that they will not bribe to get an export licence.”