New Delhi: The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that files related to the Rafale deal were allegedly stolen from the Defence Ministry, a claim which could be used as ammunition by the opposition to corner the government during the Lok Sabha polls.
Resisting a review of its earlier order, the Centre argued before a three-judge bench that documents relied by the petitioners were stolen from the Defence Ministry. The Court has deferred the next date of hearing to March 14.
The sensational disclosure was made by Attorney General K K Venugopal before the bench hearing a join petition to review its earlier verdict giving a clean chit to the government in the purchase of the jets. Making a strong case for the Rafale jets, he argued: “how could the country defend itself from Pakistani F-16 fighters that recently bombed us”.
The petitioners were Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan. The plea claimed that the government had withheld crucial facts related to the procurement of 36 Rafale jets when the apex court decided to dismiss the batch of PILs against the deal last year in December.
The petitioners had furnished newspaper reports relating to the deal to pin down the government, which was claimed to be based on the stolen files.
When Bhushan referred to an article written by senior journalist N Ram in The Hindu newspaper, the AG opposed it, saying his write-ups were based on stolen documents and an investigation into the theft is on.
“If the documents were stolen, the Govt should put its own house in order. It is one thing to say that we should look at these documents with suspicion. But to say we can’t even look at those documents may not be a correct submission in law,” Justice S K Kaul said.
When the Court asked if an FIR has been lodged into the stolen files, the AG said it hasn’t been registered so far since the FIR would have to also name the petitioners. However, he said an investigation into the theft is on.
On February 8, Hindu had come out with an article on its first page stating that the Defence ministry raised strong objections to “parallel discussions” conducted by the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) during the negotiations over the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal between India and France.
On Wednesday, it came out with a second article on the Rafale deal saying that the refusal of bank guarantee by the French side had raised the price of the fighter jets to €246.11 million than the estimated aligned cost of the Rafale aircraft deal initiated by the United Progressive Alliance government.