New Delhi, Jun 17: The scope of investigations into the allegations of bribery in defence supplies through state-owned BEML is likely to be widened beyond the probe now going on against suspended CMD V R S Natarajan. The Government has also initiated the process of finding a new Chairman and Managing Director for the Bangalore-based PSU to replace the controversial Natarajan, who was at the helm of affairs for nine years.
Sources said Natarajan was suspended last week after the CBI, which is going into several cases, including the allegations of bribery in the Tatra truck deal, had suggested such a course of action to ensure a "free and fair probe". They said the Government was keen on taking action against anyone involved in these shady deals-- be it Directors of the company, officials, 'insiders and outsiders', army personnel and even politicians.
Sources made it clear that the probe was not just about the bribes in the Tatra deals but various other cases of alleged wrongdoings. The issue had come to fore after former Army Chief Gen V K Singh alleged that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore by a retired officer to clear a deal for procuring 600 Tatra trucks for the army. Soon after the former Army Chief levelled these allegations, Defence Minister A K Antony ordered a CBI probe to investigate the charges.
The CBI has also been accorded sanction by the Defence Ministry to probe Natarajan's alleged role in irregularities linked to supply of Tatra trucks to the Indian army after 2003. Such a sanction is required in cases when the suspect is a bureaucrat of or above the rank of a joint secretary. The Ministry had given sanction to the CBI to probe
another case related to the defence PSU in February this year about allegations of wrongdoings in the sale and purchase of these Tatra trucks.
The agency is also probing into alleged irregularities in assigning of supply from Czech Republic-based Tatra, with which the agreement was originally signed in 1986, to the Tatra Sipox UK owned by Ravi Rishi in 1997, showing it as Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and the fully-owned subsidiary of the Czech company. On June 6, the Defence Ministry had sought an explanation from BEML chief VRS Natarajan for serving a legal notice on former Army chief Gen V K Singh demanding an apology for his alleged defamatory statements against the defence PSU on the Tatra truck issue.
In 2005 also, there were allegations that Tatra family of trucks were being procured from an agent and not directly from OEM and that BEML was at best an assembler of such vehicles without absorbing technology. In the wake of these allegations, the Defence Ministry had gone into the matter and apparently found that there was nothing wrong in procuring components from the intermediary company.