SC clean chit to C’garh CM’s son in AgustaWestland deal
The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave a clean chit to Abhishek Singh, son of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and Lok Sabha MP from Rajnandgaon, who was accused of being an alleged beneficiary in the VIP chopper deal between the Chhattisgarh Government and AgustaWestland in 2006. The court maintained that the State Government was entitled to make a choice for the purchase and there was no record to show that it could have been procured at a lesser price.
Dealing with a set of three PILs filed in this regard by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan, Leader of Opposition in Chhattisgarh Assembly TS Singhdeo and one Rakesh Kumar Choubey, a bench of Justices Adarsh K Goel and UU Lalit said, “There is no material to prima facie hold that beneficiary of transaction was Abhishek Singh. We broadly find that no case is made out for interference by this Court for issuing a direction as sought in the absence of allegation of extraneous consideration being substantiated."
It was a case hotly contested in the Supreme Court by the Chhattisgarh Government and Centre for nearly over a year. The origin of the controversy was an agreement signed by the Chhattisgarh Government with Sharp Ocean Investments Limited to acquire Agusta helicopters without following due process. A report by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) stated that the deal caused a loss of Rs 65 lakh to the exchequer.
The petitions trained guns Abhishek Singh by sourcing information from a disclosure by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which showed that he opened an account six months after the bulk payment was made by State Government for the said purchase to the tune of USD 6.57 million. According to ICIJ investigation, Singh was stakeholder in several companies that benefitted from the deal which were located in British Virgin Islands.
Arguing for Swaraj Abhiyan, advocate Prashant Bhushan pointed out that he invoice of AgustaWestland showed the price of the helicopter to be USD 5.246 million while the final payment made was USD 6.570 million hinting at the possibility that the excess amount was the commission received by Abhishek Singh.
Though the allegation did initially raise doubts in the minds of the judges, the facts became clear after original records of the chopper deal were summoned in Court and read by the judges. While the name of Abhishek appearing in Panama Papers leak was being investigated by a Multi Agency Group, which is yet to submit its report to the SIT on Black Money, the SC refrained from dealing with those allegations. But after due consideration of the material before it, the bench concluded, "It cannot be said there was an excess payment for extraneous reason…Agusta itself made it clear that the price was USD 6 million if delivery time was more."
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