AgustaWestland bribery case: Sonia, Rahul Gandhi never interfered in any defence deal: A K Antony

New Delhi: Seeking to shield Sonia and Rahul Gandhi from
allegations in the AgustaWestland bribery case, former defence minister A K Antony
Monday said the two top Congress leaders “never interfered” in the
VVIP chopper deal or any defence contract during the UPA regime. The assertion
by Antony in which he also accused the BJP and the government of
“manufacturing” lies came on a day of escalating political war of
words in the AgustaWestland chopper deal with BJP President Amit Shah leading
the party offensive against the Gandhis.

In a series of
tweets, Shah said the “friendship” between Christian Michel, the
alleged middleman in the deal, and Congress’ top leadership is “time
tested and deep”. He also asked what is this ‘Family Balm’ that every
middleman wants. As part of its nation-wide campaign to attack the Congress
over Michel’s statement to the Enforcement Directorate(ED), the BJP fielded its
chief ministers and top leaders in state capitals across the country. Yogi
Adityanath, Devendra Fadnavis, Jai Ram Thakur and Trivendra Singh Rawat–the
chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand
respectively–were among those who addressed news conferences.

claimed that the Rs 3,700 crore AgustaWestland deal during the UPA regime
involved a bribery of around Rs 360 crore, out of which the Congress leaders
got Rs 150 crore. He, however, did not elaborate on his claim.  The BJP’s senior state leaders also spoke to
reporters in Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand,
Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and
Rajasthan, according to a party leader in Delhi. The BJP stepped up its attack
on the Congress and its leaders in the wake of the alleged reference made by
Michel about one “Mrs Gandhi”, as told by the ED to a Delhi court.

The Congress,
has, however, rejected the allegations and has counter-alleged that it was the
Modi government that was a “protector, benefactor and promoter” of
AgustaWestland as it lifted a ban imposed on the helicopter maker during the
UPA rule and allowed it to bid for 100 naval utility helicopters. “I would
like to say categorically that (UPA chairperson) Sonia Gandhi and (Congress
president) Rahul Gandhi never showed any interest … never interfered in the
AgustaWestland deal. During my entire tenure as defence minister, Sonia Gandhi
or Rahul Gandhi never interfered in any defence deal,” Antony told a press
conference in Parliament premises, “The Government and the BJP are
misusing agencies to manufacture lies. I am surprised to know that the present
government is spreading lies….is trying to manufacture something out of
nothing,” Antony said.

“Without any iota of truth, they are trying to follow vendetta
politics.” Antony further said it was the Congress-led UPA government that
ordered a CBI inquiry the moment it came to know of corruption allegations in
the AgustaWestland deal and initiated proceedings to blacklist the company. Antony
claimed that the UPA government fought the case “unusually” in a
Milan court against the chopper-making company and won it too.  “We cancelled the contract and started
proceedings of blacklisting. But after we left, the Modi government did nothing
against AgustaWestland. Instead of acting against the company, they favoured
the company,” he said. Antony said if the Congress had anything to hide,
it would not have ordered a CBI probe or gone to Italy to fight the case.

On the BJP’s
charges of the Congress being jittery ever since Michel was extradited to
India, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said this was like
“chor machaye shor” (the thief is making noise). In his tweets, Shah
asked if Michel wanted details of his questioning by investigators to be passed
onto “Mrs Gandhi”. “Trails of the AgustaWestland Case.the SOS of
Christian Michel. Does anyone know why Christian Michel passed on the details
of questioning on Mrs Gandhi to his lawyer? 
Did he want them to be passed on to Mrs. Gandhi herself? Why?” he
tweeted. Shah said Michel’s lawyer had admitted that the alleged middleman
indeed passed a paper to him and claimed that he thought it was a list of

In this
context, the BJP president took an apparent swipe at the Gandhi family, saying
people have heard of Zandu balm and Tiger balm — medicines used to relieve
pain — but what is this “family balm” that every middleman wants. “In
any case, what must be told again and again is the Congress background of
Michel’s lawyer. The so called expulsion remains a sham. He remains the conduit
between Michel and Mrs Gandhi!” Shah said.

The Congress
had expelled Aljo K Joseph, an office bearer in its youth wing, after he appeared
as a counsel for Michel. “In national interest, Michel’s lawyer must tell
us about the existence of documents of 2008, which make a reference to Mrs
Gandhi. Evidently, the friendship between Michel and one family in India is time
tested and deep,” Shah said. Fadnavis said Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi
need to answer questions related to allegations of corruption in the
AgustaWestland scam. Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani claimed the Congress
was trying to give a “political colour” to the chopper case and
questioned why the party was scared of a probe.

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