The noose is tightening around Ravi Rishi, the NRI businessman who owns the UK-based Vectra group that sold Tatra trucks to the Indian Army, which are at the centre of the controversy surrounding Army chief, Gen VK Singh’s sensational allegation of bribery in the case.
On Sunday, the CBI issued restraint orders to prevent Ravi Rishi from leaving the country. It also impounded his passport, and has indicated it will question him again.
The action raises the prospect that Ravi Rishi could face arrest in the case. Last week, his premises and various properties were raided, and documents relating to the controversial deal were recovered.
As Firstpost has noted earlier, the Vectra Group is the largest shareholder in Tatra Holdings, which owns Czech truck manufacturer Tatra.
The Tatra- BEML deal violates the rule that Indian defence contracts are required to be direct deals between supplier and India. In this case, the deal was struck with an intermediary, the Vectra Group, which is tainted even given Vectra Group’s organic links with Tatra.
From all accounts, Ravi Rishi used his knowledge of Tatra’s straitened financial condition in the 1980s – the company was at that time struggling to survive – to extract low prices from the manufacturer, and then used his connections in India to get an even better deal.
The investigation into the case is all set to widen, given that the FIR lists Vectra company officials, officials in the defence ministry and the public sector defence utility BEML.
In the ultimate analysis, the buck may not stop with Ravi Rishi, and if he gives out more damning information on the deal, a whole lot of skeletons could come tumbling out.
An IIT electrical engineering graduate from New Delhi, Ravi Rishi had reportedly steered the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1986 towards the Tatra’s all-weather trucks. Congress leaders are worried just how far the CBI probe could stretch; in particular, they are worried whether the CBI will inquire into how the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1986 approved of the deal. They are keen to ensure that the scope of the probe does not extend beyond the bribe allegedly offered to the Army chief.
Thus far, Ravi Rishi has dismissed the allegations against him, and said that the Tatra trucks were sold through public sector undertaking Bharat Earth Movers Limited.
He also said the charges levelled by General VK Singh – that the Tatra trucks were sub-standard – were baseless.