Former Defence Minister AK Antony has said that the UPA chairperson and former Congress President Sonia Gandhi had no role to play in the procurement of AgustaWestland helicopters. Speaking to reporters in Delhi on Monday, Antony said that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Congress President Rahul Gandhi interfered in any defence deals during his time as the country’s defence minister.
Antony said, “First of all, as a former Defence Minister and during my time, this procurement of AgustaWestland took place. I would like to say categorically, Smt. Sonia Gandhi or Shri Rahul Gandhi have never shown any interest or never interfered in the AgustaWestland deal. Not only that, in the entire period of my Defence Ministership, Smt. Sonia Gandhi or Shri Rahul Gandhi never interfered in the Defence deals and procurement.”
He said that AgustaWestland was selected after ‘first technical evaluation by a team of officials.’ “They had selected two companies, one American company and AgustaWestland. After that a detailed field evaluation was conducted by a team consisting of Air Force, SPG and defence officials. They had selected AgustaWestland out of these two companies which was suited and eligible. So, Field Evaluation Committee recommended AgustaWestland.”
Antony clarified that ‘the moment report came from Italy that there is corruption in this case,’ he ordered a CBI inquiry. He said, ” The moment report came from Italy that there is corruption in this case, I only ordered a CBI enquiry not this government (headed by Narendra Modi). As a Defence Minister, I ordered the CBI inquiry. Then we took unusual decisions in our government. I don’t know any other similar incidents in the government.”
He also said that the then UPA government took a decision to fight the case in Italy in Milan Court against AgustaWestland, against this complaint of bribery. “We joined the case as an interested party. In the hearings, officials from the Defence Ministry, MEA and CBI used to attend. AgustaWestland fought the case, they employed very-very efficient and well
known advocates. Ultimately we won the case and we got the entire money we gave to the AgustaWestland, bank guarantee and all the advances, we gave to them, we got it, we got the entire money and more than that those three helicopters are still lying with us,” he added.
His statements came a day after Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said that the Modi government was responsible for revoking the blacklisting status of AgustaWestland even after the Congress-led UPA government had barred the company from doing any business with India.
The AgustaWestland issue has gained momentum after the Indian government extradited the British middleman Christian Michel from Dubai earlier this month. Michel, according to Enforcement Directorate, has named ‘Mrs Gandhi’ during the interrogation.