New Delhi: The Supreme Court today refused to direct the CBI to file an FIR against Congress president Sonia Gandhi and others including former prime minister Manmohan Singh in the Rs 3,600 crore VVIP chopper scam.
An apex court bench headed by Justices Dipak Misra and C Nagappan also said that “since the scam is already being investigated, it is up to the CBI to decide whether it wants to file an FIR in the matter”.
The court made these observations while hearing the Centre’s reply on the PIL filed by advocate ML Sharma who had pressed for lodging of FIR against Sonia Gandhi, her close aide Ahmad Patel and Manmohan Singh, whose names have allegedly been referred to in an Italian court's verdict.
Sharma had in his petition alleged that the CBI was not taking action against high-profile politicians, despite their names featuring in the order passed by an Italian court.
Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General (SG) Ranjit Kumar said that an SIT probe has been initiated in AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam case following the registration of FIR in 2013 and a charge sheet is likely to be filed this year.
During the hearing, Kumar told the bench that nobody is above law and the case is being thoroughly probed for which charge sheet will be filed in the case.
The CBI had in 2013 registered a case in connection with alleged bribes paid by the firm to Indians to clinch the deal for 12 helicopters to ferry VVIPs including the President and Prime Minister.
Sharma’s plea, which has made Ministry of Defence and CBI as parties, had sought registration of FIR against persons whose names have figured in the judgement delivered by the Italian court in Milan on April 7, 2016. It had sought a court-monitored SIT or CVC probe and also raised legal questions including as to whether decision of the Italian court is "not enough" to prosecute.
The plea had said the probe began in Italy in 2011 into the allegation that AgustaWestland paid a commission of Euro 51 million (over Rs 350 crore) to Switzerland-based consultant Guido Ralph Haschke to facilitate the deal.
"The scope of the Italian probe will end at the point where the alleged commission money reaches India. The probe will not go into who was paid the money in the Indian establishment or how the funds were worked around within the power circles of New Delhi," it had said.
"That action has been taken in Italy on VVIP helicopter scam. The CEO of the company has been arrested. But no action has been taken here. The country which would have benefited from the deal has taken action while the country which lost money has not done anything," it said, adding the petitioner is apprehending that the case may meet the fate of Bofors scandal.
CBI had in 2013 registered a case in connection with alleged bribes paid by the firm to Indians to clinch the deal for 12 helicopters to ferry VVIPs including the President and Prime Minister.
A case was lodged for alleged cheating, corruption and criminal conspiracy in the Rs 3,600 crore deal, in which Rs 360 crore is alleged to have been paid as kickbacks.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is probing the case in which Rs 360 crore were allegedly paid as kickbacks by Finmeccanica, the parent firm of AgustaWestland, had last month filed a fresh charge sheet against British national and alleged middleman Christian Michel James and two others.
The central agency filed the chargesheet in Patiala House Court on June 10 against James along with his shell company Media Exim Pvt. Ltd. and its directors RK Nanda and JB Subramaniyam under section 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The agency had lodged a case in July last year against former IAF chief SP Tyagi, businessman Gautam Khaitan, his wife Ritu, three Italian middlemen -- Christian Michel James, Guido Ralph Haschke and Carlo Gerosa -- and 13 others in the case.
Last month, the CBI announced formation of a SIT headed by Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana, to expedite the probe of high profile cases including VVIP chopper deal involving Congress leaders.
In February 2010, India had signed the Rs 3,600 crore deal to acquire 12 three-engine AW-101 choppers from the Italian company for the services of VVIPs, including the President and the Prime Minister. Three helicopters were delivered in 2011 and 2012, and about 30 per cent of the money was paid.
But in February 2013, reports surfaced alleging that two top officials of Finmeccanica had paid bribes to bag the Indian contract. An Italian inquiry into the deal forced India to investigate it too and in January 2014, the Defence Ministry scrapped the contract.