By Oscar Nkala
October 2, 2013
India’s Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) has closed its eight-year long corruption probe into South African arms manufacturer Denel following allegations that it paid kickbacks to Vara Associates, a company based in the Isle of Man, to help secure five deals between July 1999 and April 2005, to supply the Indian Army with 1 000 anti-material rifles and over 300 000 rounds of ammunition.
Indian defence procurement rules and the country’s Prevention of Corruption Act expressly forbid original equipment manufacturers who bid for contracts with the army from hiring any middlemen or intermediaries to influence or ‘swing’ the adjudication of the contracting process.
According to reports from the Indian capital New Delhi, the CBI dropped the case on Monday after eight of years of trans-national investigations in South Africa, the Isle of Man, Switzerland and the UK failed to prove the allegations levelled against Denel.
The probe started in June 2005, two months after the Indian government stopped all dealings with Denel amid allegations that the South African company had paid ‘commission’ to the value of 12.75 per cent of the total worth of the arms deals secured with the Indian Army to Vara Associates, based in the tax-haven Isle of Man, to ‘swing’ the five contracts in its favour.
The contracts involved the supply of 700 NTW-20 anti-material rifles (bunker-busting and light armour penetrating), knocked-down kits for another 300 rifles of the same make and 398 000 rounds of ammunition. According the CBI case opened in June 2005, allegations against Denel were that it had made the pay-offs to Vara Associates, accused by investigators of acting as an intermediary, disguised as technical assistance and consultancy fees.
In the course of its eight-year probe, the CBI sent requests for information to judicial and investigative authorities in the UK, South Africa, the Isle of Man and Switzerland which all reported that they could not find any evidence to support the charges against Denel.
Several employees of Vara Associates and the Indian Ministry of Defence were being probed alongside Denel on allegations of conniving with Vara Associates to swing the five contracts in question in favour of the South African company.
After the Denel deal fell through, India’s Ordnance Factory Tiruchirappalli began manufacturing the locally developed Vidhwansak multi-calibre anti-materiel rifle, which bears many similarities to the NTW-20. Available in 14.5 mm, 12.7 mm and 20 mm calibres, it has an effective range of approximately 2 000 metres.