NEW DELHI: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is learnt to have begun its probe into the alleged irregularities in the Tatra truck deal much before Army chief general V K Singh’s allegation that he was offered a Rs 14-crore bribe by a retired defence officer who represented the vehicle company.
Even as the questioning related to the controversial defence deal is coinciding with the Army chief’s allegations and the subsequent inquiry, the two are not linked, said CBI sources. CBI began investigation into the procurement of Tatra trucks through Vectra and government-owned BEML by the armed forces at least a year earlier, based on a defence ministry reference to the agency. CBI is tightlipped on naming the specific complainant in this matter. While Vectra holds a majority stake in the Czech Republic-based Tatra, which makes trucks for the armed forces, BEML is under the defence ministry.
Even as the agency has been looking into the alleged nexus between companies and individuals for Tatra truck procurement, the police case (First Information Report, or FIR) in the case was lodged just a few days earlier, on March 30. The FIR followed the Army chief’s bribery allegations. While some officials dismissed the timing as a “mere coincidence”, many others suggested the CBI may have stepped up its investigation process after the general’s allegation surfaced in public domain.
After getting the defence ministry reference, CBI had sought further documentary evidence. Sources say these point to possible irregularities in the procurement process and procedural lapses in the contracts between BEML and British subsidiary Tatra Sipox.
CBI registered an FIR against Ravinder Rishi, chairman of the Vectra Group, unnamed officials of BEML, the defence ministry and the Army. The investigation will go back as far as the 90s, it is learnt. The investigative agency is collating a list of officials involved in taking decisions regarding such deals ever since. CBI will quiz current and some retired defence ministry officials soon. It is likely to seek assistance of ministry officials and those of its vigilance wing to understand the technical and procedural aspects.
The allegation is that BEML entered into a criminal conspiracy with UK-based Tatra Sipox, which had a similar name to a Czech company,TatraAS, and manufactured military trucks. CBI’s FIR has said, “The agreement signed earlier with a foreign trade corporation of Czechoslovakia for military vehicles was fraudulently assigned to the said UK-based company by showing it as the original OEM/fully owned subsidiary of the Czech company.”
The allegation is that in this manner, vehicles worth thousands of crores were supplied to the Army, causing undue benefit to Tatra, BEML and defence ministry officials.