Agusta blacklist relief fire at Modi
The Congress on Sunday threw the AgustaWestland shoe back at the BJP, saying the Narendra Modi government’s decision to remove the Anglo-Italian company from a list of blacklisted entities and allowing it to bid for another helicopter contract was evidence of its complicity.
The party went on the offensive, rather than opting for defence, following the Enforcement Directorate’s claim on Saturday in a Delhi court that Christian Michel — the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal — had named a “Mrs Gandhi”.
The Congress dubbed it a “smear campaign laced with pure falsehood”, a case of the “pot calling the kettle black”. Armed with government documents available in the public domain, the party addressed a media conference to map the milestones in the AgustaWestland case from 2010 when the company was awarded a contract for the purchase of 12 helicopters for Rs 3,546 crore after a global tender, and posed a series of questions to the Modi government and the BJP.
The BJP’s response was quick but spokesman Sudhanshu Trivedi did not address any of the issues flagged by the Congress, maintaining that the questions were a bid to deflect the issue at hand — alleged corruption by the Gandhi family — and provide “cover fire” to Michel. “This is evidence of panic in the Congress,” he said, dismissing the questions as “technical issues”.
Congress media in-charge Randeep Surjewala said the then UPA government had ordered a probe, lodged an FIR and handed over the case to the CBI after allegations of pay-offs to middlemen and public officials had emerged.
The UPA government cancelled the contract in January 2014, by when three of the choppers had been delivered and a payment of Rs 1,620 crore made to the company.
The government had then encashed bank guarantees worth Rs 240 crore of AgustaWestland deposited with Indian banks. India also won a case for encashment of international guarantees to recover 228 million euros.
In this way, the UPA government had recovered Rs 2,068 crore against the payment of Rs 1,620 crore, he said.
Add to this the decision to confiscate three choppers. With each worth Rs 295.5 crore, this amounted to Rs 886.5 crore, Surjewala said, underlining that India had recovered Rs 2,954 crore.
The process of blacklisting AgustaWestland and its parent company, Finmeccanica — initiated in February 2013 when the UPA was in power — culminated in the order to ban them on July 3, 2014, a little over a month after the Modi dispensation took charge.
However, later that month, the Modi government modified this order and allowed the Finmeccanica group to do business with India if contracts were under execution with one of its subsidiaries, spares and upgrades were required or the vendor was a sub-contractor.
Finmeccanica was also allowed to participate in the Aero India-2015 exhibition in Bangalore in 2015, less than a year after it was blacklisted, Surjewala added.
Surjewala referred to litigation that India lost in Italian courts this year in the case to point out that the government had chosen not to file an appeal after a higher court in Milan affirmed the January 2018 judgment that there was “no graft or wrongdoing” by any Indian official.