India is witnessing the unearthing of AgustaWestland chopper scam, which is one of the biggest defence scams in the country after the Bofors. This scam again drags the names in UPA government and its associates that has been validated by the Italian court.
Let us take a look on what the case is about.
What was the scam?
In August 1999, Indian Air Force (IAF) felt the need for the replacement of Mi-8 VIP helicopters as they were completing their total technical life. Also, they were unable to operate safely at night and in places with elevation beyond 2000 meters. IAF made a strong plea for a high altitude flying helicopter for areas like Siachen and the Tiger Hill. The key requirement for the helicopter was how high it could fly.
After procedural due diligence – tenders, field trials etc.,the Congress -led UPA government had signed a government contract with UK-based AgustaWestland on February 2010, to buy 12 AW1O1 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs 3,600 crore. The purpose of this deal was to have choppers fly VVIPs like the president, prime ministers and others.
In 2013, this deal was put on hold by the government after Bruno Spagnolin, CEO of AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of the parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested on charges of bribing middlemen to secure the deal with IAF. Immediately after that a probe was ordered by the former defence minister AK Antony
The Italian court in early 2014, investigating the scam, named former IAF chief SP Tyagi to be involved and stated that he was bribed by Finmeccanica (the parent company of AgustaWestland) to sign the deal with AgustaWestland.
In 2014 only, the UPA government cancelled the AgustaWestland deal on grounds that the integrity pact was violated. The government had recovered most of the money paid to the Italian company. In 2015, however, reports of Tyagi’s acquittal by the Italian court appeared, stating that there was no corruption by Indian officials.
Now with this incident, the roles of PM Manmohan Singh, former Defence Minister AK Antony, Sonia Gandhi and SP Tyagi have been questioned.
How was Tyagi’s name involved in the scam?
After careful examination of the AW101 choppers, it was concluded that this range of choppers were also not capable of flying as high as the IAF wanted. it could not fly at 18, 000 feet and above. It was 3,000 ft short of the requirement.
In spite of such results, the deal was signed after Guido Haschke, the middleman pulled up the contract with the help of some Indian contacts. AgustaWestland allegedly paid €30 million in bribes. 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. Investigations reported that Tyagi had met Haschke and the bribery took place via Tyagi’s cousins.
How was Sonia Gandhi involved?
Sonia Gandhi’s name came up in the conversations between the three middlemen — Carlos Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guildo Haschke — who mentioned her as the “driving force behind the VIP”and her close aides Ahmed Patel and Pranab Mukherjee. This conversation was taken note of in the Milan Court of Appeals.
The present status
Guiseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolin were sentenced to four-and-a-half years of imprisonment in April 2016. 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.
While a CBI probe is going on in India. 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 chopper case, next week. The government will seek the CBI report and initiate a move to blacklist AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica.