Going back on his statement that the Rafale “secret” documents were stolen from the Defence Ministry, Attorney General KK Venugopal on Friday claimed the Rafale documents were not stolen and that what he meant in his submission before the Supreme Court was that petitioners in the application used “photocopies of the original” papers, deemed secret by the government.
His comments in the Supreme Court had caused a political upheaval with Congress president Rahul Gandhi jeering at the government saying that “Gayab ho gaya (It has vanished) is its new tagline”.
Gandhi further said the Prime Minister had performed a “bypass surgery” in the Rafale deal.
As the hearing on Rafale began in the Supreme Court on petitions seeking review of its December 14 verdict, the government on Wednesday claimed that certain documents related to the matter “were stolen from the Defence Ministry and that the petitioners had violated the Official Secrets Act by relying on classified papers”.
Venugopal, appearing for the Centre further told the court that an investigation was underway in the matter.
In an apparent damage-control exercise, the AG on Friday said, “I am told that the opposition has alleged what was argued (in SC) was that files had been stolen from the Defence Ministry. This is wholly incorrect. The statement that files have been stolen is wholly incorrect”.
Venugopal said the application filed by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan, seeking from the court a review of its verdict dismissing pleas for a probe into against the Rafale deal, had annexed three documents which were photocopies of the original.
Official sources said the AG’s use of word stolen was probably “stronger” and could have been avoided.
The government had also warned The Hindu newspaper with a case under the Official Secrets Act for publishing articles based on these documents.
Taking a jibe at the AG following his clarification, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Saturday said that from “stolen documents” they became “photocopied documents” as the “thief” may have returned them.
“On Wednesday, it was ‘stolen documents’. On Friday, it was ‘photocopied documents’.I suppose the thief returned the documents in between on Thursday,” Chidambaram said in a series of tweets.
“On Wednesday, the Official Secrets Act was shown to the newspaper. On Friday, the ‘Olive Branches Act’ was shown. We salute common sense,” the former finance minister said.
The Congress and the BJP Friday sparred over Attorney General Venugopal ‘s claim that the Rafale documents were not stolen from the Defence Ministry with the opposition party dubbing it a “lie” and the ruling party slamming Rahul Gandhi for his attack on the government over the issue.
The Supreme Court on December 14 last year gave a clean chit to the Centre on the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
A three-Judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi dismissed all the petitions and said that no probe was required.
(With agency inputs)