AgustaWestland: Shah dares Sonia to name beneficiaries, Congress hits back

New Delhi: The confrontation over the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal on Thursday snowballed to a new high with BJP president Amit Shah asking Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to name the persons who got “kickbacks” in the $750 million deal.

“It has been established by an Italian court that kickbacks were given. Rather than saying she (Sonia) is not afraid of anyone, she should clarify who received the kickbacks,” Shah told reporters here.

The Congress, however, sought to dismiss the pointed demand and said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) just wanted to “keep the pot boiling”.

Stepping up the pressure on the Congress, the ruling establishment launched a two-pronged attack against the Congress on the 2010 deal for 12 VVIP helicopters.

The Italian court order, according to media reports, also showed that the firm lobbied with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her close aides and then prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Besides BJP chief Amit Shah directing its attack on the Congress, the defence ministry issued its first official statement on the controversy on Thursday.

It said the government and all investigating agencies, including Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate, will “leave no stone unturned” to bring out the truth.

Amit Shah’s remarks and the defence ministry’s statement came within hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting with senior ministers over the scam.

The meeting was attended by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and his junior Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in parliament shortly before both houses met for the day.

Sources told IANS that the prime minister discussed the government’s further strategy over the issue in parliament and outside.

The Congress, which has already demanded that “the government should complete the inquiry and punish the culprits”, alleged the BJP was more keen to keep the “pot boiling”.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said the Italy court mentioning names of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and others was just a “descriptive reference”.

“Repeating it (the issue) will not make it serious in nature. You (BJP) just want to keep the pot boiling to divert attention of the people,” Singhvi said.

“The present government has taken effective action to bring out the truth and will leave no stone unturned in pursuing all means to bring to justice the corrupt and the wrong-doers in this case. The time taken is largely because some of the key perpetrators of this misdeed are outside the country,” the defence ministry said.

The investigation agencies are pursing “all aspects, including the arrests and extradition of foreign nationals Carlo Gerosa, Guido Haschke Ralph and Christian Michel James, the government said.

“My request is that the government should complete the inquiry and punish the culprits. They must speed up inquiry on the chopper deal,” former defence minister A.K. Antony has said.

On Wednesday, taking a combative stand, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh dismissed the bribery charges in the chopper scam.

Sonia Gandhi said she was “not afraid” and dubbed the allegations as false. Manmohan Singh and A.K. Antony also echoed the sentiment.