India to ensure transparency in defence deals: Antony


New Delhi : India will ensure transparency in defence deals and has taken several steps to ensure this, Defence Minister A.K. Antony asserted Monday.

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"The Indian system is such that we will not allow bribery or corruption," Antony maintained while speaking to reporters here on the sidelines of a defence accounts function.

"We want cooperation in the international marketplace but we also want total transparency," the minister stated.

In this context, he pointed out that Defence Procurement Policy unveiled last year "contains sufficient clauses to safeguard against bribery".

The minister's response came when he was asked about reports that Britain's BAE Systems, from whom the Indian Air Force (IAF) is purchasing trainer aircraft, had paid huge bribes to a Saudi Arabian prince in return for defence contracts.

The two issues were unrelated, Antony indicated.

The Indian government has signed a Rs.70 billion deal with BAE for the purchase of 66 Hawk advanced jet trainers (AJT), with some being purchased outright and the remaining manufactured in the country. The first of the jets is expected to arrive later this year.

Allegations of corruption have been the bugbear of defence deals for decades.

The latest concerns the Rs.130 billion deal to purchase six Scorpene submarines from France, with the manufacturer also transferring technology to enable the vessels to be built in India. The charges have never been proved.

Before this was the infamous Bofors case in the mid-1980s when the Swedish arms manufacturer was alleged to have paid huge bribes to secure an Indian Army order for 400 of its 155mm artillery guns.

A number of people, including then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, were named but the charges could not stick, with even the courts throwing them out.

The Bofors ghost, however, continues to haunt the government with an Interpol alert still out for Italian businessman Otavio Quattrocchi, considered to be close to Gandhi and who is said to have facilitated the gun deal.

Quattrocchi was held in Argentina in February but was freed when it was shown that no Indian court had issued an arrest warrant against him. The Bofors case has, however, had an unfortunate fallout.

Following the scandal, all defence deals were placed on hold and the modernisation plans of the armed forces suffered considerably as no new weapons or equipment was purchased. This situation was reversed only early in this decade.