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Conduct of senior naval officer in Gorshkov project under scanner

Monday, 12 April 2010 - 1:01am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Navy probe to ascertain nature of commodore’s proximity to Russians and link to the prestigious aircraft carrier project.

A senior navy officer, who played a crucial role in the acquisition of Admiral Gorshkov, the Russian aircraft carrier, has been placed under the scanner. Investigators are looking into whether commodore Sukhjinder Singh’s proximity to some Russians was in any way linked to problems associated with the Gorshkov project, including the escalation in cost as well as delays. Singh was in charge of the aircraft carrier project in Russia, and had been stationed there for many years. The commodore was deputed there to supervise the re-fitting and technical requirements.

The probe also focuses on his improper personal conduct.
The carrier has for long been in focus for the quantum jump in its cost — the project cost has gone up from Rs4,870 crore in 2004 to Rs11,650 crore currently. In the second week of March, during Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi, India had — in a controversial move — agreed to pay $2.33 billion for the refitting as against the original $974 million agreed upon in 2004. Singh was posted in Russia until about three years ago, and was probably the senior-most officer there to oversee the Gorshkov project. On his return to Delhi, he was appointed to the crucial post of principal director (aircraft carrier project) looking after the Gorshkov project from the headquarters. All of this underlines Singh’s extensive involvement in the project.

According to the navy, the formal inquiry against Singh, who till some months ago was the principal director of the project, started a few weeks ago. It was ordered after incriminating evidence emerged showing his links to some Russians.    

DNA has material to establish the commodore’s involvement in activities which were unbecoming of an officer of his rank and stature.

Confirming the inquiry, a navy spokesperson told DNA, “The IN (Indian Navy) has received information about a senior naval officer who has been involved in an act of loose moral conduct. The navy has instituted an inquiry to establish whether this had any influence on the performance of his official duties. Preliminary indications are that the involvement has been at a personal level.”

A navy source said the inquiry is looking into “all aspects” of Singh’s conduct, including whether his behaviour in Russia and proximity to some Russian individuals has had any “impact on the Gorshkov deal”. The concern is whether those individuals were part of a larger conspiracy of the Russian arms industry.

The Gorshkov project took a bizarre turn when Russians demanded in mid-2008 a massive price hike for the refit, leading to many within the navy and outside to suggest scrapping the entire project. In fact, questions continue to swirl about the logic of price hike. The carrier, which was originally slated to be delivered in 2008, is now only expected in 2012. Again, through it all, Singh has had a crucial role.

A navy source told DNA that “preliminary evidence” indicates that Singh may not have played any significant role in deciding the new price.

However, Singh was a member of the cost negotiation committee (CNC) set up last year to resolve the unprecedented Russian demand for increase in refit cost. According to naval records, Singh sat through the first meeting of the CNC last year. The CNC comprised at least three admirals from the navy, some three joint secretary rank officers and others. Singh was among the junior-most.

“The inquiry is going through the records” of the CNC, sources confirmed. The one man investigation, a formal court of inquiry, would “sum up in the next few days”, they said.

Connections, implications
Project cost of Admiral Gorshkov has gone up from Rs4,870 crore in 2004 to Rs11,650 crore currently Singh was in charge of the aircraft carrier project in Russia and had been stationed there for many years Sources in the intelligence set-up said incriminating evidence detailing Singh’s improper conduct was made available to naval authorities, prompting them to start the inquiry

Investigators are also looking at his Russian contacts and if they had any links to the Russian arms industry, as well as if some of those close associations could have influenced his conduct in the Gorshkov deal


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