Indian Officials Suspected of Taking Bribes in Israel Arms Deal

Police in India have begun an investigation into a possible bribery case involving senior government officials and a weapons deal with Israel. Israel's arms company denies any connection.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 11:33

India’s federal investigating agency named former Defense Minister George Fernandes, his colleague and Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitley, and former Navy chief Admiral Sushil Kumar as top suspects in a half-million dollar bribe scandal. Some of the charges involve India's purchase six years ago of the Barak missile system from Israel.

India requires the Barak system, considered to be one of the world's most advanced close-in weapons systems, against Pakistan’s sea-based inventory.

Fernandes and Jaitley maintain that the Barak system was being considered for purchase long before they entered the picture. However, the owner of a plush hotel in Delhi has reportedly confessed to being a middleman for a bribe to Jaitley that was later passed on to Fernandes.

Fernandes is a controversial figure on the Indian political scene, with many political enemies. He has blamed Sonia Gandhi, the President of the Indian National Congress, for being behind the accusations against him.

The Barak deal between India and Israel was worth $269 million.

Israel Aircraft Industries and Rafael Armaments Development Authority released statements saying they have no connection with the suspicions. India has not contacted Israel's Defense Ministry in connection with the investigation, though Israel has said it would be willing to cooperate if such a request was received.

India has made several arms purchases over the past decade from Israel, including the famous Falcon spy-plane deal of October 2003 - the largest in the history of Israel's defense industries. The $1.2-billion deal involved the sale of three spy-and-early-warning Falcon jets from Israel Aircraft Industries to India. The United States, which had long objected to the sale, withdrew its objections to the deal in light of the decreasing tensions between India and Pakistan.

The Falcon is considered to have the most modern warning system in the world, with radar installed on a large dish atop the plane. It can detect air targets hundreds of kilometers away, and can track dozens of targets simultaneously. It can also "hear" enemy broadcasts, sort them, and extract necessary information in real time.