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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Indian Police Names Ex-Defence Minister In Israeli Missile Deal


New Delhi: Federal police have slapped corruption charges against former Indian defence minister George Fernandes and a retired naval chief in a multi-million dollar arms deal with a state-run Israeli firm, officials said Tuesday. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) also charged Jaya Jeitley, leader of the opposition Samata (Equality) Party with accepting 20 million rupees (445,000 dollars) to clinch the 11.5-billion-rupee deal for seven Barak anti-ship missiles from Israeli firm.

"Besides Fernandes, Jaitley and former navy chief admiral Sushil Kumar, we have also charged Samata Party treasurer R.K. Jain and a defence agent with corruption and criminal conspiracy," a senior CBI official told AFP.

"Fernandes not only approved the proposal but tried to get it approved by the cabinet committee on security," the CBI chargesheet said.

It said retired admiral Kumar, prodded by middle-men, strongly lobbied for the purchase of the missiles from the Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd for which a contract was signed in October 2000.

The charges were levelled as the CBI raided the homes and offices of defence agents in five cities in connection with four separate cases of alleged illegal payoffs involving Israel, Russia and South Africa.

"In this connection, the CBI has come to know that a hefty commission had been paid to the president of a political party who functioned from the residence of the then defence minister," CBI spokesman G. Mohanty said.

He was referring to Jaitley. The politician used to work from the home of Fernandes, a party member and defence minister in the former coalition government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Fernandes is also embroiled in a bribery scandal in the purchase of coffins for soldiers killed during a bloody skirmish with rival Pakistan in Kashmir in 1999.

The Israeli missiles were in addition to the purchase of other Barak systems worth 260 million dollars purchased by a previous government in 1993.

"The said political party was given separate bribes and the opinion given by the Defence Research and Development Organisation was overruled by then defence minister at the behest of these middle-men," Mohanty said.

He added that Tuesday's raids had resulted in the seizing of documents and computer disks from various defence contractors suspected of acting illegally as middlemen.

Fernandes rejected the charges.

"They have gone mad to make such charges. Also, when the deal was being finalised it was signed by present President Abdul Kalam who was scientific advisor to the prime minister then," Fernandes said.

Following a massive arms kickbacks scandal in the mid-1980s, a clause was put in all Indian government defence deals stating a company could be blacklisted and contracts cancelled if it pays middlemen.

With an annual outlay of more than 14 billion dollars the Indian military has emerged as the world's largest weapons buyer.

Local dealers linked to South Africa's armament firm Denel were also under the CBI scanner on suspicion they bribed Indians to help the state-owned firm win a 3.9-million dollar army contract.

India last year froze the supply of Denel guns pending the CBI probe. The South African firm denies it violated any Indian laws.

Denel was also bidding to set up an ordnance factory in India's Bihar state as well as sell artillery guns worth 1.23 billion dollars. But the company can deal with India only after it is cleared by the CBI of the bribery charges.

Mohanty also said CBI detectives also searched for evidence to confirm reports that money illegally changed hands for a Russian military contract.
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