‘MoD knew about the Tatra scam since 2002’
The whistleblower claimed that Tatra Sipox was a broking firm
WHILE ARMY chief VK Singh’s revelations has led the CBI to investigate the purchase of Tatra trucks for the army, it has emerged that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was informed about the alleged scam in 2002 by a whistleblower from Bengaluru.
On 15 November 2002, KS Periyaswamy, who was an employee of Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), wrote to the joint secretary of the MoD, demanding a detailed probe into the supply order for Tatra trucks placed by BEML with the UK-based company Tatra Sipox Ltd.
In his letter, he alleged that while the trucks were being manufactured by Tatra AS of Czechoslovakia, BEML was placing supply orders with Tatra Sipox. He claimed that Tatra Sipox was a middleman company and that there was a conspiracy behind giving the contract to Sipox. He received no reply or acknowledgement from the MoD and the ministry took no action on his information.
The defence procurement rules make it mandatory to purchase equipment from the original manufacturer. In 2003, BEML signed a 10-year joint venture agreement with Tatra Sipox and later with Vectra, which bought Sipox. BEML denies that middlemen are involved and claims that Tatra Sipox is the marketing arm of Tatra AS, the Czechoslovakian company. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has questioned Vectra Group owner Ravindra Kumar Rishi over the ownership of Sipox and has raided BEML offices in New Delhi and Bengaluru.
“I have written more than 30 letters to the constitutional authorities over the last ten years, including several to the president. I also wrote to the British High Commissioner seeking information on Tatra Sipox and whether the company was a marketing arm of Tatra AS as being claimed by BEML. None of the authorities replied to me or did anything to investigate the deal,” said Periyaswamy.
Periyaswamy, who is also a shared holder in BEML, first raised questions about the Tatra deal in the company’s 2002 Annual General Meeting. He continued to question the deal in subsequent general meetings and when he did not receive satisfactory answers, he wrote to the British High Commissioner in 2005.
In his letter he sought to know the ownership details of the UK company. Following this he claims that he was asked by BEML officials, who came to know of the letter, to drop the enquiries. In September 2005, Periyaswamy was suspended by BEML and later dismissed from service.
• On 15 November 2002, KS Periyaswamy, an BEML staff, wrote to the joint secretary of the MoD, demanding a probe into the supply order for Tatra trucks
• He has written more than 30 letters to the constitutional authorities over the last 10 years, including the president
The charges against him were that he sought unauthorised information from the British High Commissioner with mala fide intention and that his presence in court when a PIL against the Tatra deal was heard proved that he had vested interests against the company. He was also charged with disorderly conduct, dereliction of duty and tampering with the attendance records.
Periyaswamy claims that except for the letter he wrote to the British High Commissioner, the rest of the charges are fabricated. “BEML officials wanted me out as I was causing embarrassment over the Tatra deal,” he said.
Periyaswamy, 59 years old, also highlights that another misdemeanour by the cmd VRS Natarajan of BEML has been swept under the carpet. In 2010, Natarajan was found guilty of illegal export of iron ore to the tune of Rs 118 crore (in 2007-08).
P Sahilaja of cid Hyderabad had found Natarjan liable under criminal law. However, no such action has been initiated against Natarajan, who is due to retire this year, says Periyaswamy. In this case too, Periyaswamy had written letters to President Prathibha Patil. Periyaswamy alleges that it was due to pressure by home minister P Chidambaram on the then AP chief minister that this issue was kept in cold storage.
Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.