A day after reports surfaced that the ban on business dealings with Italian defense major Leonardo S.p.A., formerly known as Finmeccanica, has been lifted, the Congress party took a jibe at the Narendra Modi government, asking whether there was a “secret deal” behind the decision. The government lifted the procurement ban on Leonardo Spa – the parent company of AgustaWestland – days after PM Modi met his Italian counterpart, Mario Draghi.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has repeatedly criticised the Congress and accused it of being involved in “bribing” over the alleged scam of the Rs 35,000 crore VVIP chopper deal that took place during the Manmohan Singh government. Calling it out for its duplicity, the Congress questioned whether the “fake bogey of corruption” raised by the top leaders of the BJP before the 2014 election in which Modi first came to power has now been silenced quietly. The Congress noted that the BJP government didn’t even file for any appeals after they lost all cases against the Italian defense major in the international court.
Targeting the BJP government through Twitter, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi wrote, “Agusta was corrupt earlier. Now, it is clean after being washed in BJP laundry. #RIPlogic.”
Over a series of tweets, Congress general secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted, “Our friends of the media spent thousands of hours of air time showing leaked documents by Modi Govt & building a false narrative against the UPA-Congress in the run up to 2019 Parliamentary elections. Will they now dare to question Modi Govt on the “secret deal” with #Augusta?”
“PM called the company “corrupt”. HM called the company “bogus”. Ex Defense Minister accused it of bribes & corruption in Parliament. Then Modi Govt withdrew backlisting of Augusta/Finmecanica on 22nd July 2014. Now, lifted procurement ban,” he wrote.
Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh claimed that the Modi government is “unequivocally guilty of shielding, protecting, and promoting AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica”. Addressing a press conference, Vallabh alleged, “The truth is that PM Modi and his government have lifted the procurement ban on Leonardo S.p.A., earlier known as Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland… As per the Italian ambassador to India, PM Narendra Modi and his Italian counterpart discussed Agusta/Finmeccanica issue during the PM’s recent visit to Rome for the G20 meet. External affairs minister Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval were also present at this meeting. As a result, the procurement ban on AgustaWestland was lifted.”
Questioning the government’s call on lifting the ban on AgustaWestland, Vallabh asked, “What is the secret deal entered between Modi government and Agusta-Finmecanica? Is it now okay to deal with a company that Modi ji called ‘corrupt-bribe giver-bogus’? Does it mean that the fake bogey of corruption created just before the 2019 elections is being given a quiet burial? What will happen to the investigation initiated by the Congress government against Agusta-Finmecanica? What will happen to pending arbitration against Agusta-Finmeccanica? Is this going to have a loss to exchequer?”
Vallabh claimed that it was the UPA government which initiated backlisting of AgustaWestland in February 2013 following media reports of corruption. “The UPA-Congress government had also filed a case against AgustaWestland in Milan, Italy. On 23.5.2014, UPA-Congress government won the case for encashment of international guarantees of AgustaWestland to recover €228 million. The Congress-UPA government recovered a total of Rs 2,068 crore from Agusta Westland against the payment of Rs 1,620 crore,” said Vallabh, adding that the UPA government had also confiscated three AgustaWestland helicopters costing close to Rs 886.50 crores.
Alleging that the NDA government has been taking systematic steps to help the Italian firm, Vallabh said, “But, in July 2014, the Modi government took an opinion from its Attorney General to undo the banning of AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica. Based thereon, the Modi government and the defence ministry issued an order dated 22.07.2014 withdrawing the blacklisting of Agusta-Finmeccanica.”
During the Manmohan Singh government, in February 2010, the Centre issued a global tender to purchase 12 VVIP helicopters that was later allotted to AgustaWestland for Rs 3,546 crores. However, in February 2013, reports surfaced on alleged corruption in the deal and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) started investigating the case. Following this, the UPA-Congress government scrapped the contract and backlisted the company in January 2014.
Days after PM Modi’s meeting with his Italian counterpart the government said that it has decided to lift the ban on the arms firm. According to an Indian envoy, the lifting of the ban will “relaunch” the strategic ties between the two countries. However, the ban has been lifted with certain conditions. According to a report by the Hindu, Italian Ambassador Vincenzo De Luca said that the matter was discussed during the Prime Minister visit, along with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. Although Luca said that they are yet to receive any official confirmation on the decision from the Indian government.