Christian Michel extradition – exposing AugustaWestland scam fully is essential

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News of a Dubai court ordering AugustaWestland scam middleman Christian Michel’s extradition to India is hogging headlines. Michel’s lawyer denies it for the time being and opposition will call it diversion from the Rafale issue, but definitely Michel will provide vital insights into the VVIP chopper scam; recall the CBI Special Court when ordering the release of ACM SP Tyagi after 18 days in custody last year had observed that CBI had failed to show when and how much of the alleged bribe was paid to him. But the real test of resolving the AugustaWestland scam will be if corruption in this scam is uncovered in its entirety and all culprits prosecuted – which has never happened to-date despite a host of defence scams. It is a golden opportunity for the Modi Government to prove it means business in rooting out corruption – with whole of India, NRIs and the world watching. Just prosecuting the former IAF Chief and another two accused, if there is enough evidence, would amount to scratching the periphery periphery.

There has been speculation in the media that ACM Tyagi may turn approver. But despite prolonged custody and repeated questioning, he has already said that lowering of the SQR for the chopper was a “collective decision”; decision to lower the flying ceiling from 6000m to 4,500m was taken in a meeting chaired by then Defence Secretary – obviously approved by Defence Minister, facilitating purchase of AgustaWestland AW-101 helicopters which fly only up to 4,572m. These helicopters were required by the SPG to fly VVIPs and the quantity required was raised from 8 to 12 by the PMO. It is on record that the IAF had insisted since 1988 that service ceiling of 6,000m was operational necessity to access all border areas, also reiterating it to Defence Secretary in January 2004. So how could the IAF Chief lower the flying ceiling of his own volition and the deal went through without scrutiny by MoD, PMO and SPG? Doesn’t the whole blame being put on ACM Tyagi stink?

It is also in public domain that then Director SPG was on board the ‘representational’ helicopter used for the trial in Italy, not actual ones to be purchased. How could Director SPG who is responsible for safety and security of VVIPs, and who used to accompany the Congress President on her foreign visits, be part trials on ‘representational’ helicopter, and agree to the deal being signed without even flying the actual helicopter? Does this not amount to compromising safety of VVIPs? Significantly, the CBI team that had visited Italy for investigation the case deliberately ignored the abbreviated jottings in middleman Haschke’s diary which apparently indicated beneficiaries in the scam – the number far more than the three accused that the CBI is targeting. Was the CBI not under orders to not investigate H Haschke’s jottings and who gave those order – HM, RM, PMO, Director SPG?

The deal for 12 x AgustaWestland AW-101 helicopters was not signed by the IAF Chief. All defence deals are signed by the Defence Secretary or the DG Acquisition in MoD. They are the ones who endure that kickbacks reach intended destinations ‘before’ the deal is inked. 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 II, is logically central to the scam since he was DG Acquisition in MoD when the AugustaWestland VVIP chopper deal was signed. Probing him and turning him approver would uncover all the skeletons. Significantly, Shashi Kant Sharma was later Defence Secretary when Congress shut down Army’s Technical Support Division. Same goes for the then Director SPG, who had resigned as Governor of Goa when questioned about the AugustaWestland deal; if there were nothing to hide, there was no need for him to resign.

Logically, then Defence Minister AK Anthony, the NSA, Defence Secretary, Director SPG, officials of PMO and MoD, and Congress high command are all in the know of details of the scam and many may have received bribes too, going by the entries in Haschke’s diary. If systematic question is resorted to separately, they are bound to contradict each other and provide the leads to thorough investigations and uncovering the sordid scam. Doing so will also be a deterrent to future scams, the procedure for which appears unofficially institutionalized. The question is whether the government will probe and act against the complete ‘syndicate’ which may also include CBI officials of that period?

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.

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