New Delhi, April 27: Former defence minister A.K. Antony on Wednesday accused the Narendra Modi government of "sleeping over" the probe into the VVIP chopper scam for two years, and said the NDA government had tried to give a "backdoor entry" to the blacklisted firm.
Antony, in a press conference, also downplayed the mention of the names of Congress leaders, including party president Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, and said officials from the defence ministry and CBI had attended court trials and none of the witnesses during cross examination named any Congress leader.
"Prime Minister Modi and the BJP government is seeking to weave a web of lies in the AgustaWestland helicopter purchase, and its parent company Finmeccanica. The Modi government is indulging in this cover up conspiracy to hide its sinister role in helping and promoting a banned company AgustaWestland and its parent company, Finmeccanica," Antony said on Wednesday.
Antony, who was the defence minister when the scam was unearthed, said: "The moment we received news from Italy that there is possibility of involvement of middlemen, we got into action."
Antony said the Indian embassy in Rome was asked to gather details, but added that they did not get any "tangible evidence" at that time.
"We decided to fight the case in Italy. Government of India representatives were present in every hearing of the case," he said, and added that probe by both the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate were ordered.
He also said the government went to the Milan court to get its money back, and received more than what it had paid.
"The then UPA government instituted proceedings for encashment of securities/bank guarantees. This litigation finally succeeded in June 2014 and the Indian government recovered an amount of Rs.2,068 crore against payment of Rs.1,620 crore. Three helicopters of AgustaWestland were also confiscated."
He also slammed the Modi government for "ignoring" the case for two years.
"They have shown criminal negligence in the case. Instead they were trying to find an escape route to bring the company back," Antony said.
"This is a conspiracy to malign Congress leaders."
The Congress in a statement also slammed the Modi government over the chopper deal.
It asked why the Modi government permitted AgustaWestland to 'escape banning' ordered by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. It also wondered if Prime Minister Modi had offered to "cut a deal" in the Italian Marines case "with a view to perpetuate a conspiracy against the Congress leadership".
"Why did the Modi government not conclude the CBI enquiry against AgustaWestland and Finmecanica for two years and also asked why it permitted AgustaWestland to bid for 100 Naval Utility Helicopters in April 2015.
"Why was AgustaWestland allowed to be part of 'Make-in-India' despite objections raised by CBI and ED in this regard?"
"Banning of AgustaWestland and its parent company, Finmeccanica was undone by the Modi government despite pendency of a CBI case and despite violation of the integrity clause', for which its contract was terminated," the Congress said in a statement.