Close on the heels of the news of CBI filing charge sheet against the former Telecom Minister, Dayanidhi Maran, his brother Kalanithi Maran and others (including two former BSNL Chief General managers) in the illegal telephone exchange case that reportedly caused a loss of Rs 1.78 crores to the exchequer, has come the news that the CBI has arrested the former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi for allegedly accepting bribe in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal. Tyagi was reportedly arrested along with his cousin Sanjiv Tyagi and lawyer Gautam Khaitan. In February 2010, the then UPA government had signed a contract with UK-based AgustaWestland to purchase 12 x AW101 helicopters for the IAF at an estimated cost of Rs 3,600 crore.
Much has happened since the UPA government signed the deal with AgustaWestland in 2010 for procuring VVIP helicopters for the President, the Prime Minister and others. Three helicopters had been delivered to India before the deal was put on hold in 2013 after Bruno Spagnolini, CEO of AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, Chairman of Italian parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested in Italy on charges of bribing middlemen to acquire the deal with the IAF.
As a follow-up, AK Anthony, then Defence Minister, ordered a probe into the matter. The CBI registered a case against the former IAF Chief, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) SP Tyagi and 12 others, including his cousins and European middlemen, in March 2013. ACM Tyagi who commanded the IAF between 2004 and 2007 was accused by investigators in Italy and India of helping AgustaWestland win the helicopter contract by tailoring specifications at the instance of his cousins.
The specific allegations accused ACM Tyagi of reducing the required flying ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 m to 4,500 m which helped AgustaWestland qualify. ACM Tyagi claimed that the change of specifications was a collective decision involving many departments. As per reports, the Enforcement Directorate alleges that payments were made through Tunisia-registered companies controlled by Switzerland-based intermediaries Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa and transferred to accounts in India and Mauritius.
In September 2014, ED arrested Gautam Khaitan on allegations of kickbacks in the 3,600 crore deal. However, in October 2014, an Italian lower court acquitted Orsi and former AgustaWestland chairman Spagnolini. Then in April 2016, a Milan Court of Appeals sentenced Orsi to four and half years and Spagnolini to four years in jail on charges of false accounting and bribing Indian officials including Tyagi. Earlier, in April 2016, Christian James Michel, the middleman in the deal had said he is willing to face Indian authorities for investigation, also writing a letter to the effect to PM Modi. Reasons why Michel had offered at this stage to cooperate are not known but he reportedly has links with the Gandhi family; so he could genuinely want to cooperate or try and lead the investigators up the gum tree.
When in May 2016 the AgustaWestland scam surfaced in media and Parliament rocked, it appeared the culprits, including high and mighty politicos and babus, would land up pronto in Tihar. But then things appeared to have cooled off. Now both the charge sheet against Dyanidhi Maran and Co and arrests in connection with the AgustaWestland scam are being attributed to Rakesh Asthana, recently appointed as the interim CBI chief. That intelligence agencies are not free from corruption and submit to diktats of political masters is quite well known.
One example of this was when the erstwhile UPA government even managed to pit the IB against the CBI for obvious political gain. But in the instant case of AgustaWestland, three things are relevant: first, over the past few months while ACM Tyagi and his Vice Chief were being questioned, no bureaucrat was summoned by CBI or ED; second, the CBI team that travelled to Italy did not probe Haschke for the jotting in his diary specifically naming the Defence Secretary, Joint Secretary (Air), AFA, DG Acquisition, CVC besides others — apparent beneficiaries? Instead, the CBI team visiting Italy during the UPA regime focused only on the role of IAF officers and some others, and; third, earlier this year, an Italian court had also exonerated ACM Tyagi of all charges.
There have been numerous articles and indications over the months that role of Shashi Kant Sharma, who was appointed CAG under exceptional circumstances by UPA, should logically be central to the ongoing AgustaWestland probe but there is no move yet to question him. Sharma, considered indispensable by Congress in MoD, has had the dubious distinction of being: DG Acquisition in MoD during signing the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal; Defence Secretary during closure of Army’s Technical Support Division through a sham board and during fake rumour of army coup; as CAG ignored SC order to appear in court “personally” for Contempt of Court for not executing SC orders on Rank Pay when Defence Secretary.
In the VVIP chopper scam, lowering of the QR was arbitrarily by ACM Tyagi, whether on suggested by his cousins or without, is illogical. To think that ‘any’ defence scam can occur without the involvement of the Defence Secretary and the DG Acquisition in MoD is downright stupid. A veteran ambassador, originally IAS, says when posted to MoD his first brief was to forget all else, just concentrate on what procurements are in pipeline and how much money could be made.
Most importantly, mystery remains who conducted trials abroad on representative helicopters and was BV Wanchoo, then Director SPG, on board during trials? Why did Wanchoo immediately step down as Governor of Goa when he was questioned in this regard? Was he protecting his political masters? MoD has reportedly asked CBI and ED to hasten the probe but it is to be seen if all involved would be interrogated and prosecuted guilty.
Scams in India have a way to be buried or go astray. Not only should the jottings of Haschke with regard to the AgustaWestland scam be probed, in the Purulia drop, Kim Davy (real name Niels Christian Nielsen) claimed it was Congress conspiracy in conjunction RAW and MI5 to overthrow the communist government in West Bengal. Are we really to believe that the probe was right in concluding that the Purulia drop was meant for a defunct organisation like Anand Margis? For that matter shouldn’t the Eurocopter Scam be probed; what bribes were taken, what part returned when the deal was called off, and what retained by whom? Justice in all cases including in AgustaWestland should be complete, not merely meted out to scapegoats.
The author is veteran Lieutenant General of Indian Army
Updated Date: Dec 10, 2016 12:43 PM