In February 2010, the Congress-led UPA government signed a contract with UK-based AgustaWestland to buy 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs 3,600 crore. The choppers were to fly VVIPs, including the president, prime minister among others.
However, the government cancelled the deal later, 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. Then defence minister AK Antony had ordered a probe into the matter. "Yes, corruption has taken place in the helicopter deal and bribes have been taken. The CBI is pursuing the case very vigorously," Antony had said in March 2013.
Early in 2014, the Italian court investigating the chopper scam had named former chief of the IAF, SP Tyagi in the scam, saying he was bribed by Finmeccanica to sign the deal with AgustaWestland. In 2015, however, Tyagi was acquitted by the Italian court, which said there was no corruption by Indian officials.
The IAF had urged the defence ministry to purchase helicopters 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 at 6,000 metres above sea level. 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's appointment as Air Force chief, the IAF had "vehemently opposed" 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.
The Milan Court of Appeals again mentioned Tyagi's name while pronouncing its judgment. "In the absence of contrary indications, it must be concluded that the reward bestowed to Tyagi's 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's involvement
The Milan court also took note of conversations between the three middlemen — Carlos Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guildo Haschke — who mention a 'Mrs Gandhi' as being the driving force behind the VIP, and her close aides Ahmed Patel and Pranab Mukherjee. 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."
The UPA government had then denied all allegations and had claimed it had nothing to hide.
Who is Gautam Khaitan
Khaitan is a Delhi-based lawyer first arrested in 2014 for laundering the kickbacks part of the AgustaWestland deal. Khaitan, an advocate and a former board member of the Aeromatrix company, which was allegedly used to route the bribes, had accepted that he had set up a shell company to receive money from the aviation firm.
Khaitan, while admitting he accepted money from Gerosa and Haschke, had denied that it was part of kickbacks to clinch the deal.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Dec 09, 2016 18:46:05 IST