The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Phukan shot down, fire on Centaur
Fernandes to face CBI

New Delhi, May 13: The Manmohan Singh government today dealt a double blow to its predecessor in power by turning the heat on two former ministers, George Fernandes and Arun Shourie, amid cries of “vindictive” from the BJP.

It tabled the report of the Justice S.N. Phukan commission of inquiry into defence deals during the Vajpayee regime and in the same breath rejected its findings. Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee described the report as incomplete as it did not address allegations of corruption.

The CBI will conduct the probe into the 15 deals struck when Fernandes was defence minister that Phukan was asked to investigate.

On the same day, finance minister P. Chidambaram announced in Parliament that divestment of government holdings from two Centaur hotels would be investigated.

“We are disgusted with the government’s obnoxious attitude. It proves its sense of vindictiveness,” said Yashwant Sinha, who was finance minister in the NDA government.

As relations between the government and the Opposition, which has been boycotting Parliament, plumbed new depths, there were fears in the BJP camp that similar actions could be initiated against some of its other leaders and allies.

Justice Phukan’s report said: “The commission is of the opinion that his (Fernandes’) reputation, as defence minister, in respect of past transactions, was not in any way prejudicially affected and hence no recommendation is called for against him.”

Although the report was tabled in Parliament, it was not made available in full to either members of Parliament or to the media till hours after Mukherjee had made it public. But the accompanying note from the defence ministry was widely circulated.

The note said the commission was asked to investigate if “illicit gains have been made by persons in public office, individuals and any other organisation as alleged, and, if so, to what extent”.

But the report has not touched upon this aspect, it added. However, the commission found irregularities in procedures and made recommendations for further inquiry in 13 out of 15 cases it had examined.

In the prologue made public, the report said: “During his deposition, Mr Fernandes has said that the entire file was not shown to him and notings in few pages were sent to him for his approval. The commission, therefore' (finds) that no illegality or irregularity has been committed by Mr George Fernandes, as defence minister.”

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