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The Delhi High Court has asked the CBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the alleged kickbacks paid in the Rs 16,000-crore Scorpene submarine deal. The court asked for a report within three months in this matter. A division bench of Justice T S Thakur and Justice Veena Birbal said, “We direct preliminary inquiry to be initiated by the CBI on the complaint (alleging kickbacks in the deal) and (it) be completed within three months”.

The court ordered that if any cognisable offence was made out after the inquiry then an FIR be lodged by the investigating agency against the accused persons. But if the investigation agency decided to close the case after conducting the inquiry then it had to satisfy the court that there was no evidence of kickbacks involved in the deal, the bench said.

“If the inquiry does not disclose the offence then the IO will file the status report and also the order of the competent officer passed on the basis of report,” the court said.

The bench, however, did not express any opinion on the merit of the case. It was hearing a PIL which has sought a CBI probe in the deal alleging that kickbacks were paid to the middle men.

Earlier, additional solicitor general Gopal Subramanium, appearing for the agency, said he had taken instruction from the CBI director and there was no problem in conducting a preliminary inquiry.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of the petitioner Centre for Public Interest Litigation, however, expressed doubt on CBI’s assurance. “It (CBI) has not done anything during the last 21 months, and it would submit a report without conducting proper inquiry. There is a need to conduct full-fledged investigation in the case,” said Mr. Bhushan. At this, the court said, “They (CBI) would face contempt if they do not conduct inquiry.”

After the order was dictated, the ASG pleaded the bench that the word ‘preliminary inquiry’ used in the order be replaced with ‘complaint inquiry’. But the court said, “Whatever term you use, it is the preliminary inquiry.” Scorpene deal was finalised by the government with the French company, Thales, in October 2005.

The petitioner had moved the high court alleging that 4% kickbacks were paid in the deal and the government was trying to protect the middlemen who were influential people. In support of the allegation, the petition referred to some e-mail messages and telephonic conversations allegedly transpired between Thales officials and the middlemen.

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