Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tatra Thriller becomes Murkier

15 Apr 2012 04:03:49 PM IST

NEW DELHI: As the Tatra truck scandal threatens to escalate into a full blown Bofors-like defence scandal for the UPA, the omnipotent CMD of public sector unit Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), VRS Natarajan, has come into focus over questionable purchases of defence equipment through illegal intermediaries. Fifty-nine year-old Natarajan is the longest serving head of the organisation, remaining at the helm of affairs for an uninterrupted 10 years, quite a feat given the many close shaves with infamy he has had. Natarajan, or Rajan as he’s being referred to in CBI circles, took over as CMD, BEML, in November 2002. It’s a post usually held by army veterans or persons with a technical background.
The Tatra plot is murkier than that of a disreputable thriller. One of BEML’s chief functions is to put together trucks for the Indian Army, that are used to ferry infantry, heavy artillery and missiles. CBI officials—who have been digging into the affairs at BEML ever since Army Chief V K Singh blew the lid, via his `14-crore bribe allegation—have found truckloads of material pertaining to not-so-above-board contracts with a shady company, an unexplained change in the currency of transactions from US dollars to the Euro and manipulations to maintain BEML’s monopoly hold over the army’s truck supply business, among others.
What may come to haunt Natarajan, despite his protestations of innocence, are two issues that are at the heart of the current probe—the renewal in 2003 of the contract to buy completely knocked-down kits (CKD) of the Czech-made Tatra trucks with a shady intermediate firm called Tatra Sipox UK (which is not the original manufacturer), and his attempt to pass off Tatra Sipox UK as the sole marketing wing of the Czech firm, which has been disputed by the mother company.
Tatra: Scams test BEML chief’s staying power by Santwana Bhattacharya

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