Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Army chief seeks more time to file complaint with CBI

Aman Malik & Sahil Makkar

Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh has sought more time to file a detailed complaint with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on an alleged bribe offer from a retired army officer.
“A case of bribery will only be registered once we have a detailed complaint from Gen. Singh,” said a CBI official on condition of anonymity.

The army chief said in a recent interview to The Hindu newspaper that he was offered a bribe of Rs.14 crore by a retired army officer to clear a batch of trucks.

Gen. Singh’s revelations set off a spate of allegations from various quarters over defence deals.
Following the interview, defence minister A.K. Antony ordered a CBI inquiry into the army chief’s allegations. Though the agency is yet to register a case in the bribery matter, it registered a corruption, cheating and criminal case on 30 March against UK-based Vectra group and its chairman Ravinder Rishi for alleged financial irregularities related to the supply of trucks to the Indian Army.

CBI also named officials of the state-owned BEML Ltd in its first information report.
The agency questioned Rishi for the third time on Tuesday at its headquarters. CBI officials say they have evidence against Rishi and his presence is required to corroborate information that has came up during investigations. The agency is now planning a joint interrogation of defence ministry, BEML and Vectra group officials.

CBI is also awaiting sanctions to start an investigation against BEML chairman V.R.S. Natarajan in a separate case.

Rishi and Natarajan could not be immediately reached for a comment.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Ranjan Mukherjee, general manager, Ural India Ltd—a competitor of Tatra Vectra Motors Ltd, a joint venture between the UK-based Vectra group and Czech firm Tatra Trucks—claimed that Ural’s trucks were never considered by the army.

The army conducted field trials of Ural’s trucks on several occasions in 2004, 2006 and 2009, according to defence ministry documents reviewed by Mint.

Gen. Singh was the eastern army commander when the trials involving Ural India were conducted in 2009 by the same command.

“Perhaps, this (the fact that Ural’s trucks were not selected) was because of pressure from our competitors,” said Mukherjee. “There was no flaw in our trucks.”

Mint could not independently verify Mukherjee’s claims or determine whether any other company was involved in the said trials.

Defence minister Antony had sought an inquiry into alleged irregularities in a deal to buy trucks for the army as far back as in 2009, the government said on Friday.

Antony had in October 2009 asked the defence production secretary to “look into the various issues” raised in a complaint against BEML, which has a collaboration with Tatra Vectra, the defence ministry said in a statement on Friday.

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