AgustaWestland deal: Jaitley denies Antony’s claim, Congress puts questions to Shah

New Delhi, April 30 (IANS) The war of words over the AgustaWestland chopper deal intensified on Saturday with the Congress asking the government and the BJP a pointed question: Why a “fraud and blacklisted company” was allowed to participate in defence contracts in 2014?

The charge has been outright denied by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who also held the defence portfolio from May to November 2014. He said AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica was never blacklisted by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

“Will BJP chief Amit Shah answer as to why the ‘fraud company’ was given permission to participate in defence contract as a ‘sub-contractor’ as also ‘supplier to a contracting party’ with government of India by order dated August 22, 2014 of Ministry of Defence?” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewalla said at a press conference here.

He sought to know from Shah “why the same ‘fraud company’ was being given permission by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board of the Narendra Modi government as recently as on December 8, 2015?”

The Congress party earlier also flayed the BJP-led NDA government for allowing the tainted AgustaWestland to take part in the `Make in India` initiative and the Defence Expo.

In Thiruvananthapuram, Jaitley dismissed the charge saying the claim that the company was blacklisted by the Manmohan Singh government and it was lifted by the NDA dispensation was not true.

“He (Antony) says the parent company of AgustaWestland, Finmeccanica, was blacklisted by the UPA government. No such thing has happened and I feel he is suffering from memory loss,” said Jaitley.

Disputing former defence minister Antony’s claim, Jaitley said: “What happened was that on May 12, 2014 as defence minister Antony issued an order directing to stop all dealings with Finmeccanica. The results to the Lok Sabha polls came on May 16 and the present (Modi) government assumed office on May 26. So Antony’s order did not come through.”

As the then defence minister, Jaitley said it was he (Jaitley) who had issued an order directing to stop all dealings with that company.

But to ensure that defence preparedness was not hurt, the old supplies were allowed and future contracts were put on hold, Jaitley explained.

In Delhi, BJP spokesman G.V.L. Narasimha Rao criticised the Congress for allowing the field tests of helicopters abroad and hinted that this was possibly done at the behest of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

“A.K. Antony, the then defence minister, had questioned the proposal to have these field evaluation trials abroad. This is what the CAG report also cites… Who in the UPA government, or who in the Congress party other than Sonia Gandhi and her advisor Ahmed Patel. Who has the authority to override Antony’s objections?” he asked.

Congress spokesperson Surjewala attacked the BJP president saying: “Amit Shah has called AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica a ‘bogus company’. Will Amit Shah ask Modi government as to why it has been protecting the same bogus company for last two years as CBI/ED investigation has reached no conclusion?”

“Will Amit Shah and BJP answer to the people as to why the same ‘fraud company’ was permitted to be part of prime minister’s ‘Make-in-India’ programme and participate in ‘Aero India Exhibition’?” he asked.

Meanwhile, the CBI on Saturday questioned Air Marshal (retd.) J.S. Gujral in connection with the VVIP helicopter $750 million deal.

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