George Fernandes was accused and later cleared of the Rs 24,000 crore coffin scam.
Former Defence Minister of India George Fernandes passed away on Tuesday morning at the age of 88. Fernandes was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and was bedridden for a long time.
While he was known as the ‘rebel leader’ during the infamous emergency era who took on Indira Gandhi and called her a ‘congenital liar’, the former minister was also accused of being involved in a corruption case called as the ‘Coffin Gate’ exposed by a sting operation by Tehelka, a news portal.
Fernandes was the defence minister in the Vajpayee-led NDA government when India fought with -- and emerged victorious against -- Pakistan in the Kargil war in 1999.
The government ordered to bring the bodies of martyred soldiers in a flag-draped aluminium casket. It signed a deal with US-based Buritrol and Baizarces for the coffins.
A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found many flaws in the procurement of the caskets, which were said to be of poor quality and exorbitantly priced. The size of the scam amounted to a purported Rs 24,000 crore.
A charge sheet was filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a CBI court in Delhi.
The CBI then registered a case against Fernandes, and several others under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 420 IPC (cheating) and the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged abuse of official position for personal gains.
Following widespread protests from parties such as Congress, Fernandes resigned as defence minister during the course of the investigation. However, the CBI in its investigation could not prove Fernandes' involvement. The special CBI court eventually gave him a clean chit in 2013.
“I needed no ‘clean chit’... The aluminium casket purchase issue had never even come to my table during my tenure as defence minister... let alone my drinking the blood of martyrs, as the Congress accused me of doing,” Fernandes later said after his acquittal.He maintained a low profile after the NDA's defeat in 2004. His last presence in the Rajya Sabha was during 2009-2010 following which he withdrew from public life due to ill health.