NEW DELHI — India’s defense minister ordered federal investigators March 26 to investigate revelations by the country’s top military officer that he had been offered a $2.8 million bribe to clear a procurement deal.
The disclosure, made in a newspaper interview by Army Chief General V.K Singh, could further embarrass a government already tainted by a succession of high-profile corruption scandals.
Defense Minister A.K. Antony described the revelations as “serious,” and his ministry spokesman said the Central Bureau of Investigations had been ordered to conduct a full investigation.
In the interview published March 26, Singh told the Hindu newspaper that a lobbyist for an unnamed military equipment supplier had offered him the cash incentive to approve the purchase of 600 substandard vehicles.
“One of these men had the gumption to walk up to me and tell me that if I cleared the tranche, he would give me 140 million rupees. He was offering a bribe to me, to the Army chief,” Singh said.
“He told me that people had taken money before me and they will take money after me,” Singh said, adding that he had informed Antony of the incident at the time. It was not immediately clear when the bribe was offered, but some media reports suggested it was two years ago.
Singh said he had been “shocked by the brazen offer.”
The army chief’s insistence that he had informed Antony has left the defense minister facing questions as to why an investigation was not ordered before Singh said some 7,000 of the cited vehicles were already in use in the Army and “had been sold over the years at exorbitant prices with no questions asked.”
His allegations follow a very public spat between the general and the government over the timing of his retirement — a dispute the army chief took to the Supreme Court and lost.
The bribery disclosure stalled proceedings in both houses of parliament March 26, with opposition members insisting on an official inquiry.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition government has been paralyzed by a series of corruption scandals, including the mis-selling of mobile phone licenses estimated to have cost the treasury up to $39 billion.