Days before the Parliament session was about to start, it was more or less taken for granted that the sessions would be dominated by the issues like the President's rule in Uttarakhand and the Ishrat Jahan controversy. Congress was all prepared to, as they say, bring the House down.
BJP had other plans.
A week into the session, the only topic that has dominated the 'debates' is that of the AgustaWestland deal under the UPA government.
After an Italian courts observed that the UPA government showed "substantial disregard" in arriving at the full truth behind the multi-crore scam, BJP grabbed the opportunity to counter Congress in the parliament.
In 2010, the Indian government agreed to buy 12 choppers for VIPs from the Italian manufacturer Finmeccanica. A deal, worth just above Rs 3,500 crore was signed.
In 2013, Italian investigators, while probing connections between the mafia, local companies and their government, stumbled upon the chopper deal and discovered that bribes in excess of Rs 120 crore were paid to Indian middlemen to seal the aforementioned deal.
Here are the key players involved in the chopper deal who have been dragged into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Ahmed Patel (Senior Congress leader)
"If anything is there against me, they should find out and hang me."
Taking a cue from his fellow Parliamentarians, this was Ahmed Patel's response to BJP's allegation of his involvement in the AgustaWestland chopper deal.
In early 2014, prosecutors in an Italian court asked the key middleman in the chopper deal whether the initials ‘AP’ in an alleged “budget sheet” for bribes to politicians referred to Ahmed Patel, then political secretary of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, reported The Indian Express. The middleman, Guido Haschke, said that he did not know who or what ‘AP’ stood for.
In the Parliament session on the Thursday, Patel rejected BJP's contention that "AP" mentioned in the notes is Ahmed Patel, saying just the initial "AP" cannot serve as an indictment. He also denied meeting any middlemen in the deal.
"What proof is there that AP is Ahmed Patel? There are many APs out there. They said they have found out from internet..." The Times of India reports him saying.
Giuseppe Orsi (former boss of Italian aerospace and defence group Finmeccanica)
The former boss of Italian aerospace and defence group Finmeccanica, Giuseppe Orsi, was sentenced by the Milan appeals court to 4.5 years in jail for false accounting and corruption following the investigation launched in 2012 into the sale of 12 luxury helicopters to India's government.
Orsi was arrested in 2014 and resigned as chief executive of the aerospace group a short while later.
Also handed a four-year jail term on the same charges was Bruno Spagnolini, former head of AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica.
The aborted deal was a severe setback for Finmeccanica, having already been hammered by the global financial crisis.
SP Tyagi (Former IAF chief)
In 2010, the Indian government was keen to buy the choppers but only if they had capability of flying over a certain height, and the Finmeccanica birds failed to cross the height barrier.
According to reports, however, the then Air Force chief SP Tyagi allegedly relaxed the conditions and allowed Finmeccanica compete for the tender.
When the allegations first surfaced, the UPA government cancelled the deal, recovered the advance paid to the chopper manufacturer and instituted a probe against the alleged middlemen, Guido Haschke, and beneficiaries including Tyagi and his family.
Haschke revealed that while AW101 did not meet the technical requirements of the IAF, the deal was signed after Haschke tweaked the contract with the help of his Indian contacts.
A CBI report said that prior to Tyagi being appointed as Air Force chief, the IAF had "vehemently opposed" the lowering of the altitude requirement. This changed after Tyagi came into the picture and the IAF "conceded to reduce" altitude requirements, allowing AgustaWestland to re-enter the bidding process.
Initial investigations by the Italian prosecutor said that Tyagi had personally met Haschke before, and that the bribery took place via Tyagi’s cousins Julie, Sandeep and Dosca.
“I got the preliminary information from the Tyagi family that the flying ceiling for the helicopter would be lowered; that in the tender offer, the altitude ceiling would be reduced,” Haschke is quoted as saying on Page 209 of the Milan Appellate Court’s 7 April judgment, reports The Indian Express.
Tyagi, however, has denied any claims of having met Haschke.
"They have blamed me for corrupt practices in which I changed the height to assist AgustaWestland, although this decision was not against the public interest. But I was nevertheless being (called) corrupt," the former IAF chief said.
"SPG was not happy with the cabin height. SPG guards will not be able to stand with their guns to protect VVIP. These were issues and they discussed at length. Then decision was taken. IAF was asked to redo them. Now you are saying chief of AIF changed to assist Augusta. It was a collective decision," he asserted.
But, in investigations by the Milan Court of Appeals, Tyagi’s name appeared more than once in the 225-page judgment. The judgment said, "So, in the absence of contrary indications, it must be concluded that the reward bestowed to 'Tyagi family' for their work in support of AW in relation to the race of the Government (of) India for military helicopters amounts to €10,500,000."
Sonia Gandhi (President of Indian National Congress)
The Milan Court of Appeals, in its judgment, took note of the conversations between the three middlemen — Carlos Gerosa, Christian Michel and Haschke — who mention ‘Mrs Gandhi’ as being the ‘driving force behind the VIP’ and her close aides Ahmed Patel and Pranab Mukherjee — the latter is referred to as being the ‘British High Commissioner’.
In a letter dated 15 March, 2008, Christian Michel wrote to Peter Hulet, the then head of India region sales and liaison for AgustaWestland, saying "Dear Peter, since Mrs Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP, she will no longer fly with MI8… Mrs Gandhi and her closest advisers are the aim of the High Commissioner, senior adviser Prime Minister Manmohan Singh obviously the main figure, then there’s Ahmed Patel Secretary".
AK Antony (Former defence minister)
In a briefing given by the BJP on the AgustaWestland on the sidelines of the Parliamentary session, Union Telecommunication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad bought up the former defence minister AK Antony. He said "Now that the bribe-givers have been convicted, what should happen to the bribe-takers? Will Mr (former defence minister, AK) Antony publicly give a statement on this? Will he accept that his partymen are involved in the scam?"
Antony argued that when the allegation surfaced in the media, the UPA immediately ordered a CBI inquiry. "We cancelled the contract and fought the case in the Milan court. We won the case and got back all the money we paid in advance by bank guarantee. The Indian government has gained more (information) now. My request to the Indian government is that the probe has been going on for a long time, and so please speed up the inquiry and find the truth," he said.
On Friday, Union Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda made it clear that government did not want to name any person without a conclusive proof.
"I do not want to make any statement against anybody...unless I get conclusive proof," he said when asked whether Antony was linked to the issue.
First Published On : May 2, 2016 13:38 IST