The Tatra truck scam:
Still panting from the efforts of struggling to bridge the current account deficit of the country, the Government of India seems to have no time to recuperate, and is now ogling at the possible embezzlement of a sum of Rs 750 crores of Government funds, perpetrated by the BEML (formerly known as Bharat Earth Movers Limited) in collusion with the Ministry of Defense.
The Tatra trucks forms the basis of the transportation of the Indian Army. An all terrain vehicle, the Tatra trucks are used by the Army for wartime exercises, like mounting of guided missile systems and heavy machine guns. These trucks are also used by the Army for deploying of troops, ammunition, supplies and other innumerable military purposes. The BEML (a company worth Rs 3500 crore), was vested with the responsibility of supplying the Army with these trucks. While the Defense Ministry ground rules strictly mandates that all military equipments should be acquired from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), the BEML, in an open defiance to such strictures, had been purchasing the truck spares from a broker in London. The Tatra Sipox (UK) Limited was the said broker, with no association whatsoever, to the OEM. While media investigations revealed that BEML, the official supplier of the Tatra trucks to the army, had been dealing with the broker since 1997, a senior ex – official of BEML, confirmed, that the company had business dealings amounting to Rs 5000 crores with the Tatra Sipox (UK) Limited. In the process, BEML had siphoned off a neat Rs 750 crores, in the form of bribes and other illicit payments, which conveniently went into the pockets of the BEML and the Defense Ministry officials.
As per the statements of K S Periyaswamy, a stakeholder in BEML, who was also chasing the issues of a Presidential intercession and a CBI inquiry in the truck deals of the BEML, “At least 15% of the money sanctioned for the purchase of the Tatra trucks is siphoned off as commission. Everyone from top to bottom gets their share. In my capacity as a shareholder, I had highlighted this issue in the 2002 annual general meeting, but it wasn’t taken up”. So cozy and convenient was this arrangement, that the BEML had further renewed a 10 years contract with the Tatra Sipox (UK) Limited, four years before the expiry of the first contract – as a show of goodwill, to prolong the felonious relationships. This scam was perpetrated right under the noses of the Government, and BEML, even after 14 years of dealing with Tatra trucks, remained ignorant about the technical aspects of the vehicle, depending heavily on the broker company, Tatra Sipox (UK) Limited, for the supply of spares and components, and the trucks were assembled using them. The Government holds a majority of stakes in BEML.
The revelations made in the autobiography of former Army Chief General V K Singh – ‘Courage And Conviction’:
General V K Singh was instrumental in thwarting the BEML truck deals. In his autobiography ‘Courage And Conviction, he alludes to the PMO, and has confirmed that a top politician in the PMO was dead against him, when he halted the Tatra truck deals. The allusion seems to indicate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ex – secretary and the present political advisory, T K A Nair. General Singh has refrained from taking the name of Nair in his autobiography. However, he had confirmed that initially he was stunned to find the Army procuring the Tartra trucks at almost four times the market price from the BEML. In what appears to be a veiled threat, Singh was instructed ‘not to ask too many questions’, as the ‘trail goes right up to a very high official in the PMO’.
General Singh further accused the Army of manipulating his date of birth, in an attempt to curtail his army career by a year, forcing his early retirement, and to make way for General Bikram Singh, the present Chief of the Army. As per his autobiographical records, “There was little doubt that a very senior bureaucrat in the PMO was orchestrating the entire age issue. Ever since I had blocked the (fresh) Tatra (procurement) files, the name of this person had been cropping up regularly”. He had also accused the said bureaucrat of illegally acquiring plots of land for his family in the BEML housing complex, which indicates his involvements in the truck scam. Nair, however, had brushed off such allegations, and had confirmed the land allocated to his niece in the said BEML housing complex to be perfectly legal.
General Singhs’s army career, punctuated with controversies, came to an end on May 31st, 2012. Currently he is chasing the issue of his altered date of birth as claimed in a plea, submitted before the Supreme Court. As of November 9th, 2013, a CBI inquiry is on in the truck scams while BEML has pulled off the sale of 7000 ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) – Tartra trucks to the Army, at a price much above the existing market rates, allegedly procured from the Czech Company Omnipol and Tatra Sipox (UK) Limited, in the last 26 years.
Results of the CBI inquiry into in the scam:
The Tatra trucks are originally manufactured in Czechoslovakia by the Tatra AS, which is the legitimate OEM for the Tatra trucks. The Slovakia based Tatra Sipox company manufactures only the axle technology. The rest of the truck is assembled in the Czech Republic based Tatra AS. CBI investigations have uncovered that the claims of Tatra Sipox (UK) Limited to be a legal ancillary of the Czech Republic based Tatra and an OEM, to be completely baseless. The CBI had sent legal petitions to the Governments of the concerned countries (‘letters of rogatory’), namely Czechoslovakia, Slovakia and United Kingdom, regarding the investigations of the scam. While Czechoslovakia and Slovakia have responded, communication is still awaited from UK and Lichtenstein.
Sources confirmed that the investigations have also unearthed incriminating documents, confirming the aberrations in the BEML’s Tatra deals, with the Tatra Sipox (UK) Limited. CBI is also confident, that the investigations will prove beyond doubt BEML’s alleged selling of the trucks to the Army, at a much higher price than the market rates. However, interrogations of the BEML and the Defense Ministry officials have proved to be a dead end, because they all emphatically denied any distortions in the Tatra truck deals and CBI is yet to produce any shred of evidence against these individuals. The only person indicted in the scam, so far, is the Vectra Group owner Ravinder Rishi, a 57 year old UK citizen and a promoter of the Tatra Sipox (UK) Limited. However, except for a ban on his entering the countries of Czechoslovakia and Slovakia, he is otherwise free to travel abroad, for medical treatment and business purposes. CBI is still hopeful of furnishing a complete charge sheet pertaining to the case, once all the legal formalities are concluded. Ravinder Rishi has been found to be a considerable stakeholder in the Tatra Sipox (UK) Limited along with BEML.
It is evident that, if anyone takes a fall in the Tatra scam case, it is going to be Rishi. But then Rishi is a UK citizen, and he has made enough money through shady deals, to buy his way out of any adverse situation. Individuals like K S Periyaswamy and General Singh is nowhere in the picture. General Singh already has enough on his plate, with the Supreme Court case ongoing, regarding the alleged alteration of his date of birth by the Army. If we are to believe the claims made by him in his autobiography, it is also to be noted that he has , all along, refrained from taking any names. General Singh is smart enough to understand that, his allusions of the mysterious wife of a politician being instrumental in the premature ending of his army career, and the involvement of a highly placed politician backed by the PMO in the truck deals, look good only in his book, ‘Courage And Conviction’. Out in the open, he would not last two seconds against the kinds of Nair. As of Nair, let alone the Tatra scam, even with the Coalgate scam brewing, his status remains unimpeachable!
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