Action if graft found in copter deal: Antony

Defence minister AK Antony on Wednesday said the government could not allow corruption in military deals, adding "strongest action" would be taken if bribery is found in the $750-million deal for 12 VVIP AgustaWestland helicopters for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

"We have requested the CBI to make an early inquiry. I can assure you the moment we get a report, we will take the strongest action provided in the integrity pact — that includes cancellation of the contract and blacklisting the companies. But before the CBI report, I don't want to jump to any conclusion," the minister said on the sidelines of a conference here.

The defence ministry has also put on hold purchase of the remaining nine of the 12 helicopters for which the R3,600-crore deal was struck in 2010. On the payments made so far, Antony said:

"If the Indian government paid any amount, as per the provisions of the integrity pact, we can get back the whole money we paid to the vendor."

"As per the defence procurement procedure, before finalising the contract for any contract beyond R300 crore, the vendor must sign an integrity pact with the government of India, agreeing to our conditions. If they violate its conditions, they are liable to criminal action," he said.

Antony referred to the actions taken by the government in such cases, where six foreign defence firms were blacklisted. "When we saw media reports of arrests and investigation in Italy, we wrote to our ambassador there to get details from the Italian government and contacted the prosecutor who is conducting the inquiry," he said.

"The second step (was) through the ministry of external affairs," he said.

"Our government contacted the government of Italy and the government of the UK because AugustaWestland is a British company and the main shareholder is British. MEA wrote to both countries again," he said. Asked if the scam would affect other deals under consideration with AugustaWestland and Finmeccanica, Antony said that would depend on the CBI report.

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