(NSI News Source Info) April 3, 2009: India warned Israel on April 3 that it would scrap a missile deal if there was "credible evidence of malpractice" in the $2 billion contract. Leftist parties have demanded a probe, alleging that state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries bribed middlemen to secure the contract for the sale of medium-range surface-to-air missiles to India. Defence Minister A.K. Antony said so far no irregularities had surfaced but added he would not hesitate to take action if the charges proved true. Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony (L) stands in the cockpit of a Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft as Air Chief Marshall, F.H. Major (R) prevents him from banging his head on the shield of the aircraft during the induction ceremony at Bidar Air Force Station some 150 Kms from Hyderabad on February 23, 2008. Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony inducted the British-built Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) Hawk as a training aircraft for Indian Air-Force fighter pilots. "The government will not hesitate to take stern action if there is credible evidence of malpractice," the United News of India quoted Antony as saying in the southern Indian town of Thiruvananthapuram. The communists, who were part of the government until late last year, claim the Israeli firm paid out six billion rupees, or $120 million, to win the deal. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported late last month that Israel Aerospace Industries had refused to comment on the allegations but quoted sources who it said were familiar with the deal as saying the process followed regulations. A section of the Indian military is also opposed to the contract, arguing it could ring the death knell to Indian efforts to build its own surface-to-air missile, for which hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent. Antony said the contract was cleared in a "transparent manner" by the Indian cabinet but said he could take a series of steps to weed out corruption. "The government can cancel the contract, initiate criminal proceedings and debar the company for five years ... if any irregularities are found," he told a news conference. India banned middlemen in military deals following allegations of bribery in a multi-billion-dollar artillery deal in the 1980s with Swedish firm Bofors. That scandal led to the downfall of the government of Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1989. Israel replaced France in 2007 as India's second-largest arms supplier, after Russia, but Antony said New Delhi was not seeking closer military ties with the Jewish state. "Israel is just one of the 45 countries from where India is purchasing arms with Russia topping the list," Antony added. India, the biggest weapons buyer among emerging countries, has imported military hardware worth $28 billion since 2000. It has earmarked an additional $30 billion to be spent by 2010 - that includes $12 billion on 126 fighter jets, for which six global aeronautical giants are in the running.
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