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‘CBI inquiry in VVIP chopper deal in advanced stage’


New Delhi, Feb 6 :

The CBI inquiry in the alleged kickbacks in the deal to acquire 12 VVIP helicopters from AgustaWestland was in “advanced stage”, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Thursday, noting that action on complaints of corruption had helped streamline the defence procurement process.
Talking to mediapersons at ‘Defexpo 14’ here, Antony said that modernisation of forces was top prority of the government.

He said taking action on malpractices and complaints of orruption might have created some delay in procurment “but overall it has helped us”.

“Action to streamline the system sends a clear signal to industry in India and outside that in area of defence everybody will get equal opportunity if products are good and prices are low. No need of lobbying,” he said.

He said the government was giving all its support to the modernisation plans of the armed forces.

“We are living in volatile surroundings. Security situation is not very pleasent. Armed forces have to be ready 24 X 7. Modernisation (is) top priroity (of the government),” he said.

Answering a query on middlemen, he said the government may not have fully succeeded but had “cleaned up the system to a large extent”.

Antony said that the the vendors were convinced that there was no political decision in defence procurements.

“Decisions are on merit. (There is) clear cut signal…In India (if you) try to do mischief that will be dangerous,” he said.

Answering a query about action against former air chief S.P. Tyagi, who is among the people being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the VVIP chopper deal, Antony said that punishment was not decided by the probe agency.

“The (CBI) inquiry is going on smoothly. It is in advanced stage,” he said.

He said another investigation was being done in the deal in Italy.

The defence ministry has cancelled bookings of AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica from defence exhibiton as the two companies were “under investigation” in the now-cancelled Rs.3,600 crore deal to supply choppers for VVIP use.

The ministry had last month scrapped its contract with AgustaWestland to supply 12 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force for “breach of pre-contract integrity pact and the agreement”.

The deal with AgustaWestland – the British subsidiary of Italian firm Finmeccanica – was scrapped more than a year after reports that two top officials of the company allegedly paid bribes to bag the contract for the chopper maker.

Answering another query, Antony said China had not been invited as an exhibitor to Defexpo but its delegaion had been invited.