Fresh row over Army chief bribe remarks

New Delhi: The Government was today caught in a fresh controversy over Army chief Gen V K Singh`s allegation that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore to swing a `sub-standard` defence deal and a stunned Defence Minister ordered a CBI inquiry into it.

Parliament was rocked by the Army chief`s allegations which the Opposition said were serious and accused the Government of doing nothing about it.

Gen Singh had claimed in the media interview that a lobbyist who had "just" retired had offered him a bribe of Rs 14 crore for clearing a file relating to a purchase of a tranche of 600 "sub-standard" vehicles of a particular make.

"Just imagine, one of these men had the gumption to walk up to me and tell me that if I cleared the tranche, he would give me Rs 14 crore. He was offering a bribe to me, to the Army chief. He told me that people had taken money before me and they will take money after me," Gen Singh said. He said he was "shocked" by the offer and reported the matter to Defence Minister A K Antony, who "banged" his head and replied that such people should be kept out.

Gen Singh did not specify the time when the episode took place or the name of the person who made the offer. Soon after the story broke out, Antony described the matter as "serious" and ordered a CBI inquiry.

Lt Gen Tejinder Singh, who was earlier blamed by the Army of leaking stories about snooping of Defence Minister`s phones and who is speculated in the media as the "lobbyist" who made the bribe offer, denied the allegation. "I have nothing to do with the TATRA (trucks involved in the purported bribe offer). I have not worked for any private or defence company," he said adding he would take legal action but did not specify as to against whom.

Tejinder Singh parried a question whether he ever raised the issue of defence contracts with the Army chief saying he had met Gen Singh two years ago and the Chief of Army Staff has nothing to do with high value contracts as they are handled by the Defence Ministry.

Asked in one of the interviews why he did not get the person arrested, Gen V K Singh said he could not understand the import of the statement and that is why he did not act against him.

"If a person who has just retired a few days ago tells you that you will get this if you do that thing and when you have never heard something like this, you would be shocked. I did not understand what he was saying and asked him to leave and then informed the Defence Minister about it," he said.

"I think it would have been better had I complained against him. The way it was said, I could not understand what he was saying. He was just saying that if this file is cleared, this much amount will be paid. Everyone takes it what is your problem. It was not like he was giving me bribe in my hand. This was an indirect method and that is why no arrest was made," the Army chief said.

Reacting to the media reports, the BJP accused the Government especially Antony of "silence and inaction" on a serious matter conveyed to him by the Army chief.

Calling an attempt to bribe the Army chief as " very serious", BJP leader L K Advani said there should be a "very speedy inquiry" and the results should be conveyed to Parliament immediately.

Former Defence Minister and another BJP leader Jaswant Singh said the silence, inaction and indecision which marks the style of functioning of Antony is extremely costly for the country. However, BJP leaders M M Joshi and Venkiah Naidu questioned the Army chief for not filing an FIR against the bribe-giver.

CPI took a different stand on Army chief Gen VK Singh`s allegations saying why he did not say it before. "All these days he (Army chief) was quite. When the decision on his age was taken now he is saying all these. Why he did not say it before?" CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari criticised Gen Singh saying as Army chief it was his duty to register a case against the bribe-giver and expressed surprise as to why he did not do so.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said, "Whenever such allegation is levelled by any senior official, the government makes sure that it is clarified. He (Gen Singh) has said a very serious thing in his statement and every thing should be made clear in black and white."