DELHI: The defence ministry will decide its further course of action in
the bribery scandal surrounding the VVIP helicopter contract after
examining the “evidence” gathered by its joint secretary sent to Italy
last week as well as the preliminary report to be submitted by the CBI.
“We will first study the reports submitted by our joint secretary (air
acquisitions) Arun Kumar Bal, who will return by the weekend, and the
CBI. Though in principle the decision has been taken to scrap the
contract, strong documentation will be needed in the eventuality the
case goes for arbitration,” said a senior MoD official on Thursday.
The ministry expects to get the reply from AgustaWestland, the
UK-based subsidiary of Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica, to its
show-cause notice by Friday. On February 15, the company was given a
week to explain why its contract should not be cancelled and penal
action initiated against it.
But AgustaWestland, in its reply, is
unlikely to admit it had hired any middle-men or paid any bribes to
them to swing the Rs 3,546-crore contract to supply India with 12 VVIP
helicopters, said sources.
As first reported by TOI last week,
AgustaWestland managing director Geoff Hoon has already written to MoD
to “categorically” state his company had “not undertaken any financial
transaction” with any Indian individual or entity in violation of the
integrity pact or any other terms and conditions of the contract.
Hoon himself has earlier been a highly-controversial politician in UK,
having served as the British secretary of state for defence before being
disgraced in a political lobbying scandal in 2010.
AgustaWestland again said, “It is responding to the notice in the spirit
of full cooperation with the Indian MoD” and its “conduct has been
fully compliant with the rules which regulate the AW-101 helicopter
contract signed with India”.
clarifications from the company. The ministry is also grappling with the
question of who should be blacklisted - AgustaWestland or the entire
Finmeccanica group - if the matter comes to a head. Both the contract
and integrity pact inked with AgustaWestland contain specific provisions
by which “strict action including the cancellation of contract,
recovery of payment, blacklisting and penal action” can be unleashed
against the vendor.
The cash-for-votes scandal is a scandal in which the United Progressive Alliance, the majority-holding parliamentary-party alliance of India led by Sonia Gandhi, allegedly bribed Indian MPs in order to survive a confidence vote on 22 July 2008. The vote in the Lok Sabha arose after the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front withdrew support from the government, who wanted to pursue an Indo-US nuclear deal.
Events and allegations
The CPI(M) objected to a proposal that would see the United States
supply nuclear technology to India in return for India agreeing to
United Nations inspections of its nuclear programs and the splitting of
the civil and military aspects of those programs. CPI(M) believed that
this would cause India to be effectively subservient to the US. The Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) also objected, on the grounds that the inspections could impede
development of the country’s nuclear arms program. The vote was won by
the government in the face of the predominantly left-wing and Hindu
nationalist objections. It had been arguing that the nuclear
infrastructure needed to be developed more rapidly because the existing
electric generation facilities were incapable of meeting growing demand.
The government’s success in the 2008 confidence vote was marred when three BJP MPs, including Ashok Argal,
waved bundles of cash which they produced from bags in parliament
during the debate, accusing the government of giving it to them in order
to buy their support or abstention in the vote. The BJP demanded the
resignation of Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh over the allegations and claimed that they had video
evidence of the deals being made, while the CPI(M) leader said that
“Practically every member of parliament has been approached with offers
of money and inducements.” The government denied the allegations,
pointing out that Argal would have self-incriminated himself by
admitting to receiving a bribe. The Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, asked New Delhi’s police chief to investigate.
A fortnight later, on 2 August, the BJP offered “documentary evidence” to support its allegation that Argal, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahaveer Bhagora
had been bribed. The evidence included transcripts of video recordings
and explanatory letters from two of the MPs, all of which was passed to
the investigatory committee that had been set up by parliament. The BJP
also criticised CNN-IBN, who had recorded the BJP MP’s attempt to sting the government but had not broadcast it.
The tapes were broadcast on 12 August 2008 after CNN-IBN had made its
appearance before the investigating committee. The company had resisted
the calls for an earlier broadcast on the grounds of legal opinion that
it had not yet attended the committee and that the broadcast might
prejudice the investigatory process.
The parliamentary investigation began on 30 July 2008 and has frequently been referred to as the Kishore Chandra Deo committee. The committee reported in December 2008 that it had found no evidence of bribery in the case of Rajya Sabha members Amar Singh and Ahmad Patel. They had been accused of offering the bribes, and Singh was a prominent member of the Samajwadi Party
(SP) which had begun to support the government at the time when the
Left Front moved to oppose it. The committee also recommended further
investigation into the activities of Sanjeev Saxena, Sohail Hindustani and Sudheendra Kulkarni. Saxena was an aide to Amar Singh, Kulkarni had a similar role for the BJP leader, L. K. Advani and Hindustani was a Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha
activist (although some early reports say that he was a driver). Some
committee members distanced themselves from the report’s full
conclusions but agreed that the additional investigation was needed.
The report concluded that the video evidence relating to a car at
Singh’s house was insufficient proof: it was not possible to determine
who was in the car and “It does not prove what transpired inside the
house. There is nothing to show that money was offered for voting in
favour of the motion of confidence or for abstaining from voting.”
A police investigation was instigated in January 2009 to look into
the issues relating to Saxena, Hindustani and Kulkarni which had been
recommended in the report of the parliamentary committee.
Revelations by WikiLeaks
The Congress Party had worked to support the government in the vote and on 17 March 2011 WikiLeaks claimed that Nachiketa Kapur,
a Congress Party political aide, had boasted to US Embassy officials in
July 2008 that his party had funds to bribe MPs in order to obtain a
favourable outcome. Kapur claimed that four MPs who were members of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had already been paid off. The Hindu reported that
Five days before the Manmohan Singh government
faced a crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in
2008, a political aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma showed a U.S.
Embassy employee “two suitcases containing cash” he said was part of a
bigger fund of Rs. 500 million ($13 million) to Rs. 600 million ($15
million) that the party had assembled to purchase the support of MPs.”
Former United States Ambassador to India David Campbell Mulford
commented that US diplomatic cables were “generally accurate” but that
all he could recall of the incident was that someone “turned out with a
suitcase of money and dumped it on the table … That was clear
In denying any wrongdoing, the RLD pointed out that they only had three
MPs at the time, not four as stated in the leaked cable. Satish Sharma, who was the person for whom Kapur acted as an aide according to the cable, said that he had no aide at all.
The revelations led immediately to further calls for the resignation
of Manmohan Singh and also for an investigation of the activities of
Kapur and Sharma. There were also calls for the issue of a First Information Report (FIR), which is the formal means by which the police record their notification of an offence.
It was announced on the following day, 18 March, that the police
investigation into the original allegations was near to completion.
a sometimes controversial publication that specialises in exposés,
reported that the entire affair was a BJP set-up designed to entrap
members of the government. The report was based on an account given by Siddharth Gautam,
a CNN-IBN reporter who had been involved, and on some recordings of
telephone conversations that had not previously been made available.
Supreme Court involvement
An application was made to the Supreme Court on 2 April requesting that it ordered a Special Investigation Team to probe the affair. The applicants were a group calling themselves the India Rejuvenation Initiative
and they argued that the investigatory process had stalled since the
report of the parliamentary committee. The hearing was adjourned to due a
procedural irregularity in the application,
and when this was resolved on 2 May the Court issued notices to the
Delhi police and government that required them to provide information
regarding the current status of the investigation. The petitioners said that
The cash-for-vote incident showed the desperate
depths to which certain political functionaries and parties stooped to
ensure victory on the floor of the House, and these exposures represent
both a gross moral degeneration and crass political opportunism of the
government and had degraded and disgraced our sacrosanct traditions of
On 7 July the Court voiced its frustration with the continued absence
of the requested status reports and set a filing deadline of 15 July.
The police had requested a further two months to fulfil the request.
Upon being presented with the status report, the Court criticised the
lethargy of the police investigation, complaining that little had been
done and that which had been done was poorly documented, inconsistent
and in places factually incorrect.
The court was similarly disparaging of a second report which followed
on from a burst of activity by the police. On 5 August 2011, Justice
What are you doing regarding these inferences? It
is distressing that middlemen of the cheapest kind tried to manipulate
Parliament proceedings. To some extent, they have succeeded. You must
find out what is the source of the money. You failed to achieve anything
substantial in the case for two years and got activated only after the
apex court orders.
Saxena was arrested on 17 July, two days after the police had been criticised by the Court.
The police claimed to have sufficient evidence to prove that he had
delivered money to the three BJP MPs and alleged that he had misled both
their enquiry and that of parliament. They also announced that they had
interviewed Bhahora and Kulaste, who were no longer MPs, but that their
ability to interview Argal was hampered because he was still in office. They had applied to the Home Ministry
for permission to interview him and Amar Singh, still a member of the
Rajya Sabha, and further announced that they intended to re-interview
The developments caused Deo to clarify that his committee had not
absolved Singh of any involvement but rather that it had found no
evidence to confirm involvement. He also had to explain that the
decision not to interview Singh had been because the committee had no prima facie
evidence of Singh’s involvement, the summonsing process for a Rajya
Sabha member would have been complex, and the outcome may have still
been a failure to attend as Singh was not obliged to do so. Furthermore,
he stated, the dissenting members of the committee had agreed with its
conclusions but had disagreed with his chairmanship. Deo had become a
cabinet minister on 12 July.
Hindustani was arrested on 20 July and announced that he would be
repeating his previous statements that he had been approached by Singh
and some members of the Congress Party who had wanted him to “arrange”
The police described him as the “orchestrator” and explained that he
was working for the BJP in an attempt to entrap the government, but his
defence counsel has claimed that he was just a “whistleblower” and that
as such he should not have been the primary focus of police attention.
The BJP took a similar line to defence counsel, claiming that the
investigation was an “eyewash”, querying how police lethargy had turned
so quickly and suggesting that they were being put under pressure by the
Singh was interviewed on 22 July and on the same day the police announced that they wished to speak with SP MP Rewati Raman Singh, whom the BJP MPs alleged had approached them on behalf of Amar Singh.
On the same day, the Court ordered that Hindustani and Saxena should be
detained in custody for 14 days, despite defence arguments of police
misconduct. The defence claimed that the police had not interviewed
Hindustani and therefore had no new evidence upon which to base their
recent claims of orchestration. When the police stated that interviews
had taken place the defence counsel responded by noting that they had
not been present for any such interviews and that their presence was a
legal requirement. The detentions were subsequently extended to 18 August.
Despite Amar Singh having previously fallen out with his party’s
leadership and being expelled from the party, Mulayam Singh, the leader
of the SP, voiced his support for the ex-member on 24 July and claimed
that Amar Singh had been framed.
Rewati Raman Singh and Argal were interviewed by police on the
following day, with Singh claiming that he gave them the same details as
he had previously given to the investigatory committee, and Argal
claiming that in fact Singh had approached him in relation to
facilitating the alleged bribe. Kulkarni was interviewed on 14 July.
Amar Singh was arrested on 6 September for his alleged involvement in
the scam and was ordered to be remanded in custody until 19 September.
He had appealed to the court to exempt him from appearing personally,
stating that he was ill with an infection; however, his request was