Chopper 'bribe': Is this the Bofors moment for UPA-II government?

CBI inquiry ordered in AugustaWestland chopper deal after Italian authorities make arrests for alleged bribes given Indians to clinch deal

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | February 12, 2013


SP Tyagi, former Indian air force chief: “I have no idea how my name has appeared in this report. I am shocked and in disbelief.
SP Tyagi, former Indian air force chief: “I have no idea how my name has appeared in this report. I am shocked and in disbelief.

Defence minister AK Antony on Tuesday ordered a CBI inquiry into the VVIP chopper deal following the arrest of Guiseppe Orsi, head of Finmeccanica, and two other middlemen in Italy for allegedly paying a bribe to clinch the deal.

The ministry had signed an agreement in February 2010 for delivery of 12 high-security AugustaWestland choppers, manufactured by the Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica, for high-profile political leaders at a cost of $735 million. The contract had specific provisions against bribery and use of undue influence.

But smoke began emerging following reports in the Italian media a few months ago that authorities there are probing into allegations of bribes to an Indian brigadier in connection with the AugustaWestland deal. Following this, the defence ministry had reportedly sought details from the Italian authorities, which the officials claim was not provided.

Events moved swiftly on Tuesday after the Italian authorities arrested Orsi and two other Italian middlemen on charges of corruption. The defence ministry decided to seek a CBI inquiry immediately after the news broke.

These developments are likely to snowball into a major political crisis, just as the Bofors revelations by the Swedish radio had in 1980s, and eventually led to the defeat of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress in the 1989 general elections.

The similarities are difficult to miss: a high-value defence deal with a contractual clause against bribing is found to have used money clandestinely to clinch the deal. Like in Bofors, the matter has come to light abroad, during an internal probe, and is reported by the foreign media in which it is alleged that individuals with Indian connections have benefitted from the ‘deal’.

Needless to say, it is an opportunity for the opposition parties to create a storm in the coming budget session, beginning next week, by posing difficult questions to embarrass the government.

Is this the UPA-II’s Bofors moment? Only time, and timely probe and media reportage, will tell.

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