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No clean chit to Fernandes, says Justice Phukan
Submits interim report on Tehelka expose to PM
R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 4
Justice S.N. Phukan, who is heading a one-man inquiry commission into the Tehelka expose that had put Defence Minister George Fernandes and his ministry in the dock over charges of bribery, today said that he had not given a clean chit to the minister.

In an apparent effort to clear the air over reports that he had exonerated Mr Fernandes of all allegations that had been levelled against him in the Tehelka expose, Justice Phukan said: “I have not given a clean chit to Mr George Fernandes. I have only submitted an interim report”.

Justice Phukan submitted his first report on the expose to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this morning. The first part of the report dealt with 15 defence deals that found a mention in the tapes. The second part, which deals with the Tehelka allegations, would deal with the “reputation” of Mr Fernandes, Justice Phukan said.

Soon after Justice Phukan submitted his interim report, there were reports that Defence Minister had been given a clean chit. Reacting to initial reports, Mr Fernandes described the sting operation as a “motivated rubbish” and voiced confidence that political forces that backed the “malicious campaign” would be exposed.

Justice Phukan said the Tehelka tapes had been sent to London for forensic examination and the findings would be available with the commission in March.

He said the second report dealing with allegations levied by the portal, and the role of middlemen in defence deals would be submitted in June or July.

On the findings of the interim report submitted to the government today, Justice Phukan said it dealt with defence deals from 1981 to 2000.

Those deals which found mention in the tapes were II Tubes, Carl Gustav rocket launcher, simulators, light weight binoculars, HHTI, Krasnopol, advanced jet trainer, ARV, Barak, T-90s, upgunning, tank navigation system, Kandla Bhatinda pipeline, Sukhoi and Kornet E.

The report clearly brings out the involvement of middlemen in defence deals and has recommended action against certain officials for their alleged role in “deals” while suggesting improvement in the present system of procurement of defence equipment.

Some of the deals were made when Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Sharad Pawar were Defence Ministers. Asked about their role in the deals, Justice Phukan said he would not like to comment on it as they had not been given notices.

He said the part I of the report was written after examining 507 secret defence files and 26 witnesses. It had 641 pages with 47 pages of broad conclusions.

He said the findings of the report and the suggestions found mentioned in the 47 pages should be made public and the rest should not be as they concerned national security.

The expose by the portal stirred a political storm resulting in the resignation of Mr Fernandes from the government and the then BJP President Bangaru Laxman stepping down having been caught accepting bribe on camera.

Mr Fernandes later rejoined the government and Justice Venkataswamy who earlier headed the commission resigned in November 2002.


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