AgustaWestland chopper deal: The day's highlights
The BJP demanded that the government disclose the names of the beneficiaries in the Italian VVIP chopper deal of 2010.
New Delhi: 4:30 pm: A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court in connection with the AgustaWestland helicopter deal, seeking probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) or Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
3:15 pm: The BJP questioned the government's inaction over the Italian VVIP chopper deal of 2010 on Wednesday. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "I want to ask Antony was the ambassador of Italy summoned to get information? Why did the Indian government wait for the Italians to take action?"
The BJP also said, "Those who are the beneficiary of the kickbacks, their names must be disclosed." Ravi Shankar Prasad added, "The UPA finds a way to take bribes in everything in this country."
2:25 pm: Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley hit out at the government for not taking action in the Italian VVIP chopper deal of 2010. "The Italian government caught the one who gave the bribe. Till when will India hide those who took the bribe," Jaitley questioned.
He also said that the BJP will raise the issue in the upcoming Parliament session and will demand an answer from the government.
2:00 pm: The Left Front warned the government that it will raise the VVIP chopper deal during the Budget Session of Parliament. "I don't know what the Defence Minister thinks, but we demand an impartial probe into the chopper deal. We will raise this issue in Parliament and the Defence Minister will have to answer," CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said.
1:40 pm: Aam Aadmi Party national convenor Arvind Kejriwal said, "I read in today's newspapers that the US President himself said that these choppers were expensive. Such choppers were bought by our poor nation for the Prime Minister and President."
12:18 pm: Retired Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi demanded a probe into the allegations against him and his family members in the VVIP chopper deal saying he had no knowledge of any kickbacks. "None of the political bosses were in touch with me. I have not facilitated this deal for nobody," he added.
12:10 pm: Retired Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi said the requirement changes in the Italian VVIP chopper deal of 2010 was a professional decision and not a political one. "George Fernandes used to go to Siachen and that's when the 18,000 ft requirement came. Cabin height of the helicopter did not suit the SPG. This is not political, this is professional," Tyagi said.
When asked about the involvement of his family members, Tyagi said, "Yes, they are my cousins. To the best of my knowledge they have nothing to do with defence. I do not have an explanation on the Italian investigations."
Commenting on the political blame game, Tyagi said, "I am not a political animal, local politics will go on on who is from which nationality. We never discuss procurement with politicians."
12:01 pm: Retired Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi expressed shock at reports claiming he received bribe and that his family members helped in a VVIP chopper deal with an Italian firm in 2010. "I am shocked and amazed by the charges against me. Sad day not only for me but my officers," SP Tyagi said.
He said if requirement changes were not made during his tenure. "It is incorrect to say that requirements were changed in my tenure by air headquarters. Changes were made in 2003. It is wrong to say that they were to suit AgustaWestland," he said.
11:36 am: BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad hit out at the government over the 2010 chopper deal and said, "Was the investigation not being done because the company is from Italy?" He said the NDA government did not order for supplies and that the deal must be reviewed. "Is government delaying action with CBI inquiry? Why was it not ordered earlier," he questioned.
11:07 am: External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said the government was in touch with Italy to get information on the 2010 chopper deal. "We have obviously remained in touch with Italy, so that they give us information. Let us see what the Italians are doing, there are jurisdictions involved, proper law doctrines are involved," Khurshid said.
He also said that the government will help CBI in the probe if required. "CBI will make its own investigations, if it requires an help from government of India, we will surely help," Khurshid said. He also said the government will act as per the law and not to please the Opposition.
10:50 am: Former Air Chief SP Tyagi, who, along with his family members, is in the dock over corruption allegations in the Rs 4,000 crore Italian chopper deal, said changes in the helicopter tender were made before his tenure started.
10:47 am: Former Air Chief SP Tyagi said he is "ready for an inquiry" into the chopper deal.
10:44 am: The CBI has received the government's request for a probe into the AgustaWestland chopper deal of 2010.
10:38 am: The Opposition attacked the government over the corruption allegations in the 2010 Italian helicopter deal saying the government was doing a cover up. "Congress is trying to do a cover-up on the chopper scam. Italy would've benefited with the deal, but still they went ahead with investigations and arrested people. They are serious but we are not, the country losing money not serious, but the country gaining money serious about the case," BJP leader Prakash Javadekar said.
CPI leader D Raja said, "It doesn't surprise me. We have been witnessing the revelation of many scams in defence establishments, it was earlier Bofors scam, then coffin scandal, then former Army chief General VK Singh came up with an alarming bribe allegations, now this has come out. There is some rot in the defence establishment, no transparency."
10:30 am: Defence Minister AK Antony also added, "Our integrity pact is full proof, everyone involved is legally bound." Reacting to the arrest of defence company Finmeccanica's CEO Giuseppe Orsi, Antony said, "We have to get details from Italians, we have to act as per law. We can't arrest people just like that. We need at least the preliminary report from CBI," Antony said.
10:10 am: The Defence Ministry on Wednesday talked tough over the corruption allegations in the 2010 Italian helicopter deal. Defence Minister AK Antony said the government has ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation enquiry and that nobody will be spared.
"We have blacklisted six companies in the past out of those, four are biggest. We don't fear how big they are. Whoever is found guilty will have to pay the price. Nobody will be spared," Antony said.
He also said the government will get back any amount that has been paid to the vendor by it. "If Indian government paid any amount of money, we will get back the entire money we paid to the vendor," Antony said.
He, however, said he had no information of Retired Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi.
A day after the Italian police arrested defence company Finmeccanica's CEO Giuseppe Orsi in an ongoing corruption inquiry, there are more details emerging. Reuters now reports that three cousins of former Indian Air Force Chief SP Tyagi allegedly helped twist rules in a helicopter tender won by AgustaWestland.
However, the retired Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi has told CNN-IBN there were no changes made in the tender during his tenure and that claim can be confirmed from the defence ministry records.
"I have been in touch with my cousins, who know nothing about the deal. The deal was finalised three years after I retired. Frankly I have no idea what influence I could have brought about (in the deal). To the best of my knowledge, no requirement was tweaked or changed," Tyagi added.
However, national daily The Indian Express on Wednesday morning reported that SP Tyagi did receive bribes to facilitate the deal. The newspaper wrote, "The 64-page report, filed in the tribunal of Busto Arsizio city for the arrest of Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi, gives details of the case being investigated by Italian prosecutors and alleges that the then air chief, SP Tyagi, was instrumental in swinging the deal and was paid a 'certain amount of money, not yet quantified' - through intermediaries."
The three cousins of SP Tyagi - Juli, Docsa and Sandeep Tyagi - received part payments amounting to 100,000 euros from two AgustaWestland managers. Reuters also adds that the warrant reviewed shows that two managers paid the cousins, among others, to swing the 2010 contract for supplying 12 helicopters to India. Italian prosecutors alleged that Orsi hired US-born Guido Ralph Haschke, who had close ties with the Tyagi brothers, to lead dealings in India to secure the contract.
In February 2010, India had inked the deal to acquire the 12 three-engine AW-101 helicopters from AgustaWestland for IAF's elite Communication Squadron, which ferries around the President, PM and other VVIPs.
Despite initial objections by the finance ministry, the Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared the deal in 2010. Indian Defence Minister AK Antony had then said, "IAF and SPG repeatedly told us the helicopters were required because of the changing security scenario... the finance ministry also agreed later. The CCS then took a considered decision."
The case, which is still in its preliminary investigation phase, has rocked Italy before parliamentary elections on February 24-25, and also in India, the world's largest weapon importer. Prosecutors in the northern town of Busto Arsizio, near AgustaWestland's headquarters, said Orsi hired US-born Guido Ralph Haschke, who was then a consultant for the Finmeccanica group, to lead dealings in India to secure the contract.
Haschke and his partner Carlo Gerosa, prosecutors said, had close ties with the Tyagi brothers. Prosecutors allege that Orsi, along with the current chief executive of AgustaWestland Bruno Spagnolini, paid 400,000 euros in consultancy fees to Haschke and Gerosa. "Of this, 100,000 euros in cash were given to the Tyagi brothers," they said in the 65-page warrant.
The money went to the brothers to pressure Indian officials and help doctor the tender terms to favour the specification of AgustaWestland's helicopters, the prosecutors alleged. The tender was changed to accommodate AgustaWestland by, among other things, lowering required altitudes where the helicopters could operate to 15,000 feet from 18,000 feet, "thus allowing AgustaWestland, which otherwise would not even have been able to present an offer, to take part in the tender", the warrant said.
The tender terms were also changed to introduce an engine failure flying test. This favoured AgustaWestland as its helicopters were the only ones in the tender operating with three engines.
Orsi's lawyer said his client denied distributing any money or pocketing a single euro, adding that the investigation did not provide any evidence of illicit payments. AgustaWestland said on Tuesday it supported Spagnolini who was placed under house arrest.
The warrant also covered Haschke and Gerosa. Neither has been arrested as they are in Switzerland. A lawyer for Haschke, contacted by reporters, declined to comment on the case while Gerosa could not be reached for comment.
Sashi Tyagi, head of India's air force from 2004-2007, in November had claimed he had no memory of the issue. The warrant did not explain how Tyagi might have been involved in a deal completed after he had left his post.
The arrests over Indian bribery allegations come as Finmeccanica unit Alenia Aermacchi hopes to compete for a contract to supply over 50 military transport aircraft to India in competition with European aerospace group EADS. According to specialist defence publication IHS Jane's, Alenia would build 40 of the 56 C-27J Spartan airlifters in India and use the same assembly line to meet future regional demand for tactical air transport.
The military arm of EADS subsidiary Airbus said last week it would offer its C295 military transport plane as an alternative, adding that manufacturers were waiting for a formal competition document from the Indian government.
Meanwhile, an Indian Defence Ministry spokesman said the contract signed with AgustaWestland includes "specific contractual provisions against bribery and the use of undue influence as well as an integrity pact." Amidst suspicion of bribery, Indian mission in Rome had sought a detailed report from Italian government but Italy had said it could not be shared as it was under judicial process, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.
The first three of the 12 AgustaWestland VVIP choppers have already arrived in India and the rest were expected in the coming months. After the arrest, the Italian firm said in a statement that "Finmeccanica expresses support for its Chairman and CEO, with the hope that clarity is established quickly, whilst reaffirming its confidence in the Judges." It added, "With reference to the precautionary measures issued today towards the Chairman and CEO of Finmeccanica and the CEO of the controlled Company AgustaWestland, Finmeccanica confirms that operating activities and ongoing projects of the Company will continue as usual."
Meanwhile, the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party said it has been raising the financial irregularities in the VVIP helicopter deal for the past one year and insisted that the Congress-led UPA government give an explanation about the reported anomalies. "Action has been taken in Italy on the VVIP helicopter scam. The CEO of the company has been arrested. But no action has been taken here. The country which would have benefited from the deal has taken action while the country which lost money has not done anything," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar told reporters.
He had raised a question in the Rajya Sabha to which the government gave a reply on December 12, 2012. Antony had acknowledged that it has come to the notice of Ministry of Defence through several reports that Italian prosecutors had begun a probe into alleged unethical dealings by M/s Finmeccanica.
He had then informed the House that the probe into the matter has been widened to include the ibid contract. Antony had further said that upon his ministries request, the External Affairs Ministry has taken up the matter with the Italian and UK governments to get further details. "However, in the absence of any specific information, government has not started any formal probe in this regard by Indian agencies," Antony had said.
Not satisfied with this reply, Javadekar wrote a letter to Antony on December 14, 2012 stating that there are several indicative evidences of payment of kickbacks and the suspected graft should be probed. Javadekar said Italian investigators are probing allegations that AgustaWestland paid a commission of Euro 51 million to Switzerland-based consultant Guido Ralph Haschke to facilitate the deal in India.
The Rs 3,546-crore contract for 12 AgustaWestland helicopters with the company was concluded in February 2010.
(With additional information from Reuters and PTI)