A day after the BJP targeted him over the AgustaWestland deal, former Defence Minister AK Antony hit back at the ruling party, saying "the deviation" in the tender process for purchasing VVIP helicopters started in 2003, under the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
"AgustaWestland was not qualified to participate in the global tender process initiated by the Government in 2002 to purchase choppers to carry VVIPs. It could enter the tender process after a meeting of air force, defence officials, convened by then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra in 2003, decided to relax norms," Antony said.
Narrating the chronology of events leading to the choice of AgustaWestland for supplying VVIP helicopters, he said that initially, when the operational requirements were framed, it was specified that the helicopter should be able to fly at a height of 6000m.
"But the Brajesh Mishra-chaired meeting in 2003 decided to reduce the operational requirement to 4500m height. That meeting also decided to make 1.80m cabin-height mandatory for the helicopter. The decision helped AgustaWestland to participate in the tender process. The deviation started there... then," Antony told press persons at an event in the Ernakulam Press Club.
Antony claimed that he became suspicious about the deal when he, as the Defence Minister, observed the proceedings of a case in an Italian court.
"I had said there is suspected to be corruption in the deal. Based on this observation, the UPA government decided to order CBI probe into the AgustaWestland deal," Antony said.
The senior Congress leader, who is campaigning in Kerala for UDF candidates contesting the Assembly polls, said that those who have received a bribe in the case should be brought to book and punished
Accusing the Narendra Modi government of trying to create a smokescreen into the whole episode, he said, "You are ruling the nation. Take action. Complete the probe into the case at the earliest. Punish the bribe-givers and bribe-takers."
Asked if he was prepared to be questioned by the Enforcement Directorate, Antony said, "Don't show any mercy towards me. Whatever action can be taken as per law, take it."
Union Minister Ravishankar Prasad had, on Saturday, attacked Antony, saying that since he held the Defence portfolio when the contract was awarded to the foreign firm in 2010, he had to explain who had been driving the controversial deal for supplying VVIP helicopters to the IAF.