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Nothing to hide on chopper deal: Antony

Posted on Feb 19, 09:44PM | IANS

New Delhi, Feb 19 : The government has nothing to hide in the VVIP chopper controversy and is prepared for a discussion in parliament, said Defence Minister A.K. Antony here Tuesday. He also refuted reports about his resignation.

"Our hands are very clean and we have nothing to worry. The government has nothing to hide. We will explain everything to parliament," Antony told reporters after Partnership Day function marking the signing of Inter-Government Agreement between India and Russia for the formation of BrahMos Joint Venture.

He denied any rift in the government on the scrapping of the chopper deal.

"There are no differences. The government is acting together," he said and added that the issue was being handled by the defence ministry for the present.

Antony said his ministry had sought assistance of the External Affairs Ministry concerning the controversies in the deal whenever required and there was no lack of coordination.

He said decisions about defence procurement were not political. "It is according to defence procurement procedure."

Antony said the government would proceed according to law and not show mercy to people guilty of alleged kickbacks in the $750-million (Rs.3,600-crore) VVIP chopper deal.

"(We) must find out the truth, must find out the culprits and they must be brought to law," Antony said, adding that the government would get to the root of the controversy.

A team of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and defence ministry officials left for Italy Monday to get more information on the alleged kickbacks in the chopper deal.

The defence ministry last week initiated action for cancellation of the chopper contract.

It also issued a formal show-cause notice to AgustaWestland to explain within a week why the contract should not be cancelled.

The matter came to light after Italian agencies arrested Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi for suspected corruption to seal the deal. AgustaWestland is a subsidiary of Finmeccanica.

Antony said the government wanted to get official documents and not rely only on media reports.

"CBI is inquiring. I don't want to jump to conclusions," he said.

"We are very clear. If any foul play is found, we will take action. If anybody violates defence procurement procedure, we will take action. I want to assure you, nobody will be spared," Antony said.

He said that apart from the CBI, the Italian court was also inquiring into the matter.

Asked if he would resign, Antony said he was doing his duty and the ministry had taken all precautions against corruption in defence deals.

"I'm sad (over the allegations of kickbacks) in spite of taking all precautions... I'm doing my duty," Antony said.

He said the government would not hesitate in cancelling contracts of firms if there was corruption and added that four powerful companies have been blacklisted.

Antony said he had to face criticism about slow progress in modernisation of the armed forces but had not desisted from taking strong action in case of any wrongdoing.

He said the security situation faced by the country was "very volatile" and the country had to strengthen its armed forces.

There had not been any slowdown in modernisation plans of defence forces and the money allocated for the purpose was being spent, the defence minister said.

"Our defence forces are much more equipped," he asserted.

To a query on handing over of the Gwadar port by Pakistan to China, Antony said it was a matter of concern.

Earlier, Antony said Russia should induct BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in its fleet so that the success achieved in the joint venture was fully appreciated.

Antony said the Indian Air Force would soon have BrahMos both on land and air platform, making it a real force multiplier.

The Indian Army, Navy and Air Force consider BrahMos to be an important weapon due to its speed, precision and power, he said.

In his speech, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne said modified Su-30 Mk-I aircraft would soon be equipped with BrahMos missile.

Antony also presented awards to top scientists and technologists associated with this joint venture.

Sources said the government had decided to expand the infrastructure to cater to larger production requirement of BrahMos missiles.