India's Tatra truck order in the balance

Jan. 10, 2013 at 12:03 AM
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BANGALORE, India, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- India's armed forces are looking for an alternate missile deployment truck after the Defense Ministry put on hold procurement of a Tatra vehicle because of bribery allegations.

Under consideration are trucks by manufacturers from Russia and, in particular, the Volat series made by MZKT -- Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant -- in Belarus, a report by the Press Trust of India said.

MZKT was set up in Minsk in 1954 when Belarus was part of the Soviet Union and specializes in making heavy off-road vehicles, especially military trucks.

The Press Trust said the Defense Ministry recently called a meeting, which was attended by all military stakeholders, on the issue.

A search for an alternative truck to the Czech-designed, Indian-made Tatra is the latest twist in an ongoing bribery investigation by the government's Central Bureau of Investigation that started early last year.

The basic vehicles -- heavy duty all-terrain trucks for transport of troops, tanks and missiles systems in the battlefield -- are made by Tatra in the Czech Republic and were set to be tweeked in India by Bharat Earth Movers Ltd.

BEML won the order for hundreds of the vehicles in March 2010, a report by the Indian news site NetIndian said at the time. The order is for nearly 500 8X8 vehicles and nearly 300 6X6 vehicles.

BEML has supplied several thousand Tatra variants in recent years and the 2010 order was to be fulfilled within 18 months, the NetIndian report said, quoting a BEML statement.

It said the Ministry of Defense already had made an advance payment of half the total amount.

But delivery and the procurement process for the vehicles, as well as that for several other military projects, have ground to a halt amid the CBI investigation concerning allegations of bribery by former Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh, who retired in May.

A report by NDTV said Singh disclosed in an interview with a private television station last year that he was offered a bribe, just months after he took office in mid 2010, to clear allegedly substandard Tatra trucks supplied by BEML for purchase by the army.

BEML Chairman and Managing Director V.R.S. Natarajan denied Singh's allegations, threatening to sue him, the NDTV report said.

"The former army chief has made some allegations against BEML. As the chief executive of the company, I deny them as absolutely false, motivated, damaging and defamatory," Natarajan said.

A report by The Times of India in late October said the CBI filed a case against retired Lt. Gen. Tejinder Singh for allegedly offering the bribe to Singh to clear the purchase of 1,676 high-mobility Tatra trucks for the Indian army.

V.K. Singh was replaced May 31 by Gen. Bikram Singh, an infantry officer and the second Sikh to gain the top military post.

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