The Supreme Court today posed searching questions to the Chhattisgarh government on the purchase of a AgustaWestland helicopter for VIP use in 2006-07 and asked what was the “interest” of Chief Minister Raman Singh’s son in this.
A bench comprising Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit asked the state about the allegations of irregularities in the purchase of helicopter and foreign bank accounts purportedly linked to the chief minister’s son, on which a probe has been sought in the petitions filed before it.
“What is the interest of Abhishek Singh, who also happens to be the son of the chief minister, in this? You have to satisfy us on that,” the bench asked senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, who was representing the state.
Jethmalani said the allegations were “unwarranted insinuations” and there was no evidence to substantiate these claims.
“These are all reckless allegations in the petition,” he told the bench which reserved its verdict on the pleas filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan and others seeking investigation into the alleged irregularities in the purchase of the helicopter.
The petitioners have alleged that in July 2008, a bank account in the name of ‘Abhishak Singh’ was opened in British Virgin Islands, and on August 1, 2008, one of the firms which was purportedly involved in the deal was wound up.
They have alleged that there was a “strong possibility” that the money paid as commission in this deal has ultimately reached to the foreign bank account.
During the arguments today, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioners, said the proposal of the state in December 2006 said that helicopters firms should be invited to make their representations, but later, no company was called and a tender was issued only for a AgustaWestland chopper.
He claimed that an extra amount of 1.324 million dollars was paid to a firm, Sharp Ocean, over and above the cost of the helicopter
which was 5.246 million dollars.
When he raked up the issue as to why only AgustaWestland was selected, the bench said, “it is a matter of their (state) choice”.
However, Jethmalani said officials of state government had negotiated with representatives of Sharp Ocean, which was the authorised agent for AgustaWestland in Hongkong in February 2007 and the price of the chopper came down and they also got its delivery soon.
He said that due to the negotiations, the price came down from 6.2 million dollars to 6 million dollars and the chopper was delivered to the state on December 20, 2007. He said there was nothing wrong in the entire deal.
Meanwhile, the petitioners claimed that Chhattisgarh had paid 6.57 million dollars for the purchase of the helicopter, while Jharkhand had paid 5.591 million dollars to AgustaWestland for the same chopper bought at the same time.
Bhushan said that even today, the Chhattisgarh government was hiring other helicopters for its use.
The apex court had earlier said it was only concerned as to whether any “fraud or hanky-panky” was committed in the deal, while making it clear that it was not questioning the choice of the helicopter.
It has also directed the state to place before it the original files relating to the deal.