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CBI raids Vectra factories, chairman Ravi Rishi's residence, issues summons

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Meanwhile, BJP tells Antony to quit, even as Gen Singh says ‘rogue elements’ trying for schism between him and govt; asks for ‘uninformed comment’

After registering a case on the the complaint by General V K Singh, the army chief, of attempts to bribe him to push the purchase of Tatra trucks, the Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids at various places in the country on Friday, beside summoning the head of the company in question.

Tatra is a Czech firm, and the largest equity holding in it is of the Vectra Group, which has 18 companies, with eight manufacturing facilities in four countries (India, the UK, Czech Republic, and Slovakia). Vectra’s chairman is Ravi Rishi, who has got a CBI summons for questioning. Raids were made in Delhi, Greater Noida and Bangalore, including at Rishi’s residence and at Vectra’s factories.

The Tatra trucks were routed for sale here by BEML, a government-owned company. “CBI has filed an FIR (First Information Report, the formal term for a police case) under Section 420 (of the penal code, on cheating)and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. CBI will investigate the Tatra-BEML deal from 1997 onwards. (We) today summoned Rishi, along with all the documents regarding the deal of Vectra with the Indian Army.” CBI sources said.

It appears the case has been filed against ‘unknown officials’ of Vectra and BEML, and the defence ministry.

As reported already, Gen Singh seems to have told defence minister A K Antony about the alleged attempt to bribe him, by a former Lt General of the army, who’d recently retired, in 2009. Antony has said he’d asked if the complaint should be looked into but the General said he didn’t wait it so done at the time. The issue has re-surfaced after Gen Singh reopened it, along with a number of other controversies, including a letter to the Prime Minister that the country’s state of war preparedness was pathetic.

The government’s discomfiture on these issues deepened today when the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party said it wanted Antony to resign, for having done nothing on the 2009 complaint on corruption in the procurement of Tatra trucks. Also, party senior Prakash Javdekar quoted a newspaper report on 2009 in the Rajya Sabha today, on the current health minister (Ghulam Nabi Azad) having written to Antony on alleged corruption in the Tatra deal. The newspaper, the Mumbai-based DNA daily, had even printed the official reply (in October 2009) that “the matter is being examined in this ministry”.

Since the minister had earlier told Parliament there had been no inquiry because the army chief didn’t press for one, the BJP said the minister had not been truthful. For a change, however, the resignation demand was made decorously, in a disciplined fashion and without any uproar. No other party -- Gen Singh’s conduct in recent days has come in for all-round condemnation from MPs --associated itself with the resignation demand.

The Congress party attacked the BJP for its “negativism”, but was clearly worried about the way things were going.

Meanwhile, general V K Singh today blamed ‘rogue elements’ for trying to create a schism between himself and the defence minister. “The timing of raising the bribery issue has been questioned. Institutional corrective steps were taken earlier, after talks with defence minister A K Antony. Selective leaks culminated in an airing of (my) letter to the Prime Minister. We are duty bound to serve the country and protect the integrity of the Army, even if we sometimes have to look within. We need to look within the confines of the system and law. Frivolous and uninformed comments should not be made on military matters,” Singh said.

CBI sources had some not-so-good for him, regarding his recent letter to the agency to probe a serving Lt General, Dalbir Singh Suhag, for alleged corruption on a purchase deal. Top sources in the CBI said the charges against Suhag had been investigated earlier and found untrue. As director-general of the Special Frontier Force, the Lt Gen was charged by Trinamool Congress MP Ambika Banerjee with having taken bribes to procure equipment. The chief referred the complaint to the CBI two years after it was made.

But the CBI said it investigated and found the equipment Suhag was charged with procuring was never bought because there was no competitive bidding – there was only one vendor. So, it did not even go to the trial stage. It was after an enquiry was held into the charges and he was cleared of these that Suhag got his present job as a corps commander. Sources close to Suhag said he had got no notice of any kind from anyone in the government.

And, another storm is brewing for the chief. The petition of retired Lt Gen Tejinder Singh (he is the ex-Lt Gen named by the chief as having offered him a bribe in the Tatra purchase) for a defamation case was taken up in the Delhi high court today. The judge, Mukta Gupta, asked the government to present before the court, by April 27, information about the charges made in a press release – were these charges made by army officers in their individual or official capacity? She also asked Gen Tejinder Singh to explain under what law the press release could be withdrawn.

In his plea, Tejinder Singh had argued army officials had committed an illegal act by making charges against him in a press release that had said he had tapped the offices of senior officers."The officers abused their official positions, power and authority to level false charges against me," his HC complaint said.

First Published: Sat, March 31 2012. 00:30 IST