AgustaWestland case: All you need to know about the VVIP choppers scam
In February 2010, the ruling congress-led UPA government signed a government a contract with UK-based AugustaWestland to buy 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs 3600 crore.
The Supreme Court said on Thursday that it would hear a PIL, which seeks to file an FIR against Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh in the AgustaWestland chopper case, next week.
The government on Wednesday said it will seek a report from the CBI on the deal and initiate the move to blacklist AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica. It also claimed that the previous UPA dispensation had not put any embargo on the scandal-tainted company.
Top Modi government sources claimed the UPA government had not blacklisted AgustaWestland despite allegations of bribery and that it was only when the NDA came to power in 2014 all acquisition proposals with the firm were put on hold.
Rajya Sabha proceedings were continually disrupted on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday by the Opposition, seeking a probe into the AgustaWestland chopper case.
The Congress went into a rage on Wednesday when Subramanian Swamy dragged Sonia Gandhi's name in his speech, disobeying rules of the Parliament stating names of members not present in the parliament should not be taken.
Before the issue is addressed in the Upper house , here is all you need to know about the AgustaWestland chopper scam:
What is the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case?
In February 2010, the Congress-led UPA government signed a government contract with UK-based AgustaWestland to buy 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs 3,600 crore. The purpose of this deal was to have chopppers fly VVIPs like the president, prime minister and others.
In 2013, however, the deal was put on hold by the government after Bruno Spagnolin, CEO of AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of the Italian parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested on charges of bribing middlemen to acquire the deal with IAF.
The following day, then defence minister AK Antony ordered a probe into the matter.
Early in 2014, the Italian court investigating the chopper scam names former chief of the IAF, SP Tyagi in the scam, stating that he was bribed by Finmeccanica to sign the deal with AgustaWestland.
In 2015, however, reports of Tyagi’s acquital by the Italian court appeared, stating that there was no corruption by Indian officials.
How was Tyagi involved in the scam?
The Indian Air Force had urged the Defence Ministry to purchase helicopters that were capable of flying in high-altitude areas like Siachen and Tiger Hill. After careful evaluation of the AW101, it was ascertained that it was not capable of flying 6,000 m and above and could only reach up to 4,572 feet.
The alleged middleman in the deal, Guido 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.
AgustaWestland allegedly paid €30 million in bribes, of which €20 million was routed through Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
A CBI report that came in later 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. Tyagi, however, has denied any claims of having met Haschke.
In recent investigations by the Milan Court of Appeals, particularly in its 225-page judgment, Tyagi’s name appeared more than once. 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.”
Why is Sonia Gandhi’s name being brought into this?
The Milan Court of Appeals, in its judgment, took note of the conversations between the three middlemen — Carlos Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guildo 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".
In April 2016, Guiseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolin were sentenced to four-and-a-half years and four years imprisonment respectively. The court also ordered the two executives to pay €7.5 million euros ($8.5 million) — a sum related to the amounts deemed to have been allegedly paid in bribes.
A CBI probe into the matter is ongoing in India.
With inputs from agencies
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