Bloomberg News

India’s Defense Minister Says He Couldn’t Pursue Bribe Claim

March 27, 2012

India’s Defense Minister A.K. Antony said he refrained from ordering a probe into claims a former officer attempted to bribe the country’s army chief because the top general preferred not to pursue the matter and failed to make a written complaint.

General V.K. Singh told The Hindu newspaper he was offered a bribe of 140 million rupees ($2.75 million) if he approved the purchase of 600 vehicles considered “sub-standard” yet which were already widely used by the military. Singh said in an interview with the daily published yesterday that he had reported the matter to Antony.

“I acted on my judgment, if I have done wrong you must punish me,” Antony said in parliament’s upper house today, defending his decision not to pursue the alleged bribe. “I will not spare anybody but I must get a complaint.”

The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been assailed by corruption cases for nearly 18 months, especially over a mobile phone license sale in 2008 for which a former minister is in jail and on trial.

Arun Jaitley, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said concerns about corruption had hurt India’s defense preparedness under recent administrations and called on the minister to ensure transparency in issues relating to arming the military.

The army chief named Tejinder Singh, a retired lieutenant general, as the person who offered the bribe in 2010, Antony told lawmakers in parliament today.

‘Shocked’

“When General V.K. Singh told me about the incident, I was shocked,” Antony told parliament. “The army chief told me it was Tejinder Singh who offered him the bribe but he said he doesn’t want to pursue it.”

Anil Aggrawal, a Supreme Court lawyer representing Tejinder Singh, said in a phone interview that his client “absolutely denies the allegations” made in parliament. “They are totally untrue,” he said.

India’s arms-buying has been slowed by sensitivity over earlier graft scandals, including one that helped drive the ruling Congress party to defeat in 1989 elections, say analysts including Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior fellow for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Antony told lawmakers in the upper house that he had opposed corruption throughout his political career and had canceled major deals for military equipment over suspicions of graft. After reading the interview with Singh in the Hindu, Antony said he has ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the bribery claims.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Macaskill in New Delhi at amacaskill@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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