Monday, June 27, 2011


NEW DELHI: In a new twist to the ongoing competition for the country's biggest defence contract worth over Rs 45,000 crore, the Indian Air Force has blacklisted the country manager of one of the contenders for the contract.

Officials in the Air Force and the Ministry of Defencehave both claimed that the move would not scuttle the $10 billion contract for the MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft).

The move to blacklist P V Rao, country manager ofDassault Aviation, is being linked to a bribery scandal in Bangalore during the recently concluded Aero India exhibition. Interestingly, it was Rao who blew the whistle on Wing Commander A K Thakur demanding Rs 20,000 from Rao for giving Rafale, his company's fighter jet that's competing in the MMRCA contract, a vantage parking slot at the Yelahanka airbase during the exhibition. Thakur was caught by a senior MoD official while accepting bribe.

The IAF last week notified both the MoD and the French embassy about its decision to declare Rao persona non grata. The decision would mean that Rao would not be able to participate in any further meetings. Rao also won't be able to enter the air headquarters in New Delhi.

Dassault's Rafale and EADS' Eurofighter are believed to be the two front-runners in the technical evaluation of the MMRCA contract, which is probably the world's biggest open tender defence contract now. The air force is holding a court of inquiry in Bangalore, in the wake of Rao's whistle-blower operation which netted the air force officer. But the air force has its own doubts about the episode.

The air force is irked by the fact that Rao kept it in the dark about its officer asking for bribe and instead got a senior IAS officer to expose the corruption. A senior officer claimed Rao deliberately didn't follow known procedures, which was to inform IAF senior officers. It's also possible that IAF establishment didn't inspire Rao's confidence.

When contacted, a Dassault representative refused to discuss the matter. This is the third instance where wrongdoings have been detected in the MMRCA contract process.