In a new twist to the controversy surrounding the 'clean chit' to former defence minister George Fernandes in the 'Tehelka' scam, a news magazine has claimed that Justice S N Phukan undertook a 'week-long junket' courtesy the defence ministry while investigating alleged corruption in defence deals.
'Outlook', in its forthcoming issue, has claimed that it has details that Justice Phukan, his wife and some lawyers of the Tehelka Commission were provided a specially chartered VVIP aircraft of the Indian Air Force to travel to Shirdi, Pune, Ahmednagar and Mumbai from Delhi in December 2003.
This was six weeks before Justice Phukan submitted his report to the government in which he is believed to have given a clean chit to Fernandes, according to a release issued by the magazine.
When contacted by 'Outlook', Justice Phukan confirmed he had travelled on the IAF aircraft. "I did go on the trip. If you have any questions ask the government," he was quoted as saying.
Asked why his wife accompanied him and what the purpose of going to Shirdi was, he said, "That (Shirdi) was on the way, and why should you have a problem with that? I don't think this compromised the commission's findings at all."
At every destination, the magazine claimed, the judge and his entourage enjoyed the hospitality of one of the three defence forces. The red carpet was rolled out for him on the instructions of the defence ministry, allegations against which he was investigating at that time.
The ostensible reason for the trip was that the judge wanted to familiarise himself with the weapons system he was inquiring into.
However, a lawyer of the Commission, who was on the trip, was quoted as saying, "It was more of a holiday than anything else."