‘Corruption smear impacting on Barak missile purchases’

March 10th, 2008 - 9:43 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 10 (IANS) A raging storm over the payment of kickbacks in the purchase of the Israeli Barak anti-missile defence system is impacting on the additional purchases of the weapon, the Indian Navy chief said Monday. He, however, hastened to add that the navy was not facing a shortage of the system.

“There is no shortage. We need to buy some more in the normal course of procurement and that is what is held up at this point of time,” Admiral Sureesh Mehta told reporters here on the sidelines of a function to flag off an Indian Navy expedition to the North Pole.

Asked as to what had caused the hiccup, Mehta said: “We are trying to figure out what is the status of the company (and things like that). The government will take a view on that and once that is taken (we can proceed one way or the other).”

The navy chief was non-committal when asked whether the ongoing investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the kickbacks allegedly paid to arms dealer Suresh Nanda, who was arrested from Mumbai Saturday, would impact on future purchases of the Barak system.

“I don’t know. These are policies of the government. It should not come in the way, as these are things we need, something that is successful and proven,” he said.

“We are very happy with the system. We have had 13 firings of the Barrack against surface-to-surface missiles. Except for the first, which was a test firing, the rest were all direct hits,” Mehta added.

Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony had witnessed one of these firings at night during his “Day at Sea” with the Indian Navy last January and had professed to be fully satisfied.

The CBI late Saturday arrested Suresh Nanda, son of former Indian Navy chief Admiral S.M. Nanda, from a hotel in Mumbai. Suresh Nanda’s son Sanjeev, their chartered accountant Bipin Shah and Income Tax deputy director Ashutosh Kumar were also arrested.

“The Directorate of Income Tax (Investigation) had conducted raids in 2007 at the premises of Suresh Nanda during which several incriminating documents showing his involvement and that of his associates in different defence deals were recovered,” a CBI statement said Sunday.

“The accused Income Tax deputy director (Investigation) was handling the probe then. He had taken huge amount of bribe from Suresh and Sanjeev in order to favour them in the investigation report,” the statement added.

The CBI has been tightening the noose around Suresh Nanda for quite a long time, interrogating him several times at its headquarters here. The external affairs ministry had earlier suspended his passport on the CBI’s request.

The CBI has accused Suresh Nanda of receiving Rs.4 million ($99,943.82) in kickbacks after a deal to purchase the Barak missiles was signed during the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime.

The $100 million (Rs.3.9 billion) deal had come under the scanner after it was alleged that then defence minister George Fernandes had overruled, at the behest of Suresh Nanda, the opinion of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that it could develop a system similar to the Barak.

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