AgustaWestland Scam – will probe spare the big fish?

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In February 2010, the India’s Congress-led government contracted UK-based AgustaWestland to purchase 12 x AW101 helicopters. Three helicopters were delivered but since 2013 after Bruno Spagnolini, CEO, AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, Chairman of Italian parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested in Italy on charges of bribing middlemen to acquire the deal with India.  In October 2014, an Italian lower court acquitted Orsi and Spagnolini but in April 2016, a Milan Court of Appeals sentenced Orsi and Spagnolini to jail.

In March 2013, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a case against former IAF Chief, ACM SP Tyagi and and 12 others, including his cousins and European middlemen. Tyagi was accused of reducing required flying ceiling of helicopters from 6,000m to 4,500m to help AgustaWestland qualify. Tyagi claimed change of specifications was collective decision involving many departments. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) alleged payments made through Tunisia-registered companies controlled by Switzerland-based intermediaries Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa and transferred to accounts in India and Mauritius.

In December 2016, CBI arrested ACM Tyagi for questioning along with others. Tyagi was detained for 27 days till a Special CBI court lambasted CBI for lack of evidence and ordered his release. Same year, an Italian court also acquitted ACM Tyagi of all charges.  In January 2017, a special court of India had issued summons against three accused in the money laundering case related to the Rs 3,726.9 crore helicopter deal in which it had earlier issued open-ended non-bailable warrant against British national and alleged middleman Christian Michel  (http://www.rediff.com/news/report/vvip-scam-court-issues-fresh-warrant-against-christian-michel/20170107.htm). In September 2017, CBI filed a charge sheet in the case, naming ACM Tyagi, Air Marshal JS Gujral, Christian Michael and four other foreign nationals alleging irregularities in the 2010 contract leading to estimated loss of about Rs 2,666 cr to India.

Indian media reported in July 2018 that Christian Michael has been re-arrested in Dubai (https://www.republicworld.com/india-news/general-news/agustawestland-case-middleman-christian-michel-re-arrested-in-dubai-full-details-here) but the case took a curious turn with CBI saying, Michel was arrested by UAE authorities in February 2017 (not re-arrested this year) and they have not examined or questioned him in Dubai to extract any confession, as alleged by Michel’s lawyer (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/65073261.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst).

But most significantly, in April 2016, Christian Michel said he is willing to face Indian authorities for investigation, and also wrote a letter to the effect to Prime Minister Narendra Modi (https://www.firstpost.com/india/agustawestland-scam-heats-up-but-will-justice-reach-its-logical-end-3149466.html). It is strange why CBI did not respond to Michel’s offer immediately and why extradition is taking so long now despite excellent India-UAE relations, and Michael in UAE custody since February 2017.

Facts already in public domain include (https://www.firstpost.com/india/agustawestland-case-why-arrest-sp-tyagi-and-let-babus-politicians-go-scot-free-3175770.html):  helicopters in question were required by Special Protection Group (SPG) fly VVIPs; number of helicopters required was icreased from 8 to 12 by Prime Minister’s Office (PMO); since 1988 IAF had insisted on 6000m service ceiling to cover all border areas, also reiterated to Defence Secretary in 2004; under instructions of  NSA in January 2005, fresh SQR were evolved in consultation PMO and SPG;  meeting chaired by Defence Secretary in May 2005 decided lowering service ceiling to 4,500m – which was later approved by  Defence Minister, facilitating purchase of AgustaWestland AW-101 helicopters that have fly only up to 4,572m; no way Tyagi could have lowered the flying ceiling without the indulgence of MoD, NSA, SPG and PMO; then Director SPG was abroad the ‘representational helicopters’ for trials in Italy; middleman Haschke’s diary revealed jotting of apparent beneficiaries, and CBI team that had travelled to Italy did not question Haschke.

Should Michael turn approver, Modi government has an excellent opportunity to not only expose the bribery recipients but also uncover the sordid mechanism that relates to most, if not all defence scams, considering CBI’s charge sheet claims Michel had access to not only secret files of MoD, but also information about movement of files, including the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meetings with regard to instant helicopter procurement. Merely probing the case from the bribery angle would miss out on the dark secrets that have been plaguing defence deals. Logically, the then Defence Minister, NSA, Defence Secretary, Director SPG, and officials of PMO and MoD must be probed. Significantly, the then Director SPG who was later Governor of Goa, immediately stepped down from the governorship when he was questioned in this scam. The question is can the Modi government muster guts to go full hog or let the big fish continue to feed, considering no defence deal is without kickbacks, no matter which government.

 

Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post retirement has published over 1300 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

1 Comment

  • Maj Gen Ashok Coomar says:

    A few weeks ago an article by a senior journalist had appeared in a national Hindi daily alleging that there appears to be an understanding between political parties that the one in power will not precipitate any conviction for the past top leader(s).
    This appears to be the case in this case too or are we to wait further for truth to come out?
    Ashok Coomar

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