New Delhi: Efforts were made by the previous UPA government to favour AgustaWestland and attempts were made to “hoodwink” the probe into kickbacks in the chopper deal, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said in the Lok Sabha on Friday during a debate on the VVIP chopper scam.
“The field trials of the chopper were initially opposed by (then defence minister) AK Antony but he was later convinced to change his stand,” Parrikar contended.
Congress members, including party chief Sonia Gandhi and floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge, among others, were present in the house as the debate began.
“Some concessions were given, especially to a single vendor. It was not given to other companies. This showed the favour,” the defence minister said.
The benchmark cost as worked out was euro 727 million, approximately Rs 4,877.50 crore, which is “six times” the estimated project cost of Rs 793 crore, he said.
“Benchmarking in prices during purchase of copters were higher. Even experts feel this was much higher than it should have been,” Parrikar said.
He also alleged that in February 2012, when certain things were highlighted in the media, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government chose to act through the ministry of external affairs.
“This was an attempt to hoodwink the probe. The defence minister could have acted directly and written to the company directly,” Parrikar said amid repeated protests from Congress members.
He said in 2005, the Congress-led dispensation had stopped its dealings with a South African company after graft charges emerged but did not apply the same yardstick in 2012 for AgustaWestland.
Parrikar said Antony’s ordering a CBI probe was actually not suo moto but was “forced upon” on the government as things were moving on the other side and an arrest was made abroad in 2012.
The discussion in the Lok Sabha is being held on a calling attention motion, unlike in the Rajya Sabha, which took up the issue on May 4 as a short duration discussion.