The Defence Ministry will write to AgustaWestland to enquire if it paid bribes to Indian officials to land a Rs 4,000-crore deal for 12 VVIP helicopters in 2010. India will also enquire whether the alleged kickbacks were paid to Indian individuals or entities, sources in the government said. The CBI is investigating the controversy, which scaled up this week after the arrest in Italy of the CEO of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland.
Italian prosecutors in their report say that the defence giant paid bribes in India, partly to former Air Force chief SP Tyagi, to have the tender tailored so that its own helicopters would be a suitable match. In a fact-sheet released today, the Defence Ministry says that the changes to the original tender were discussed and then notified between 2005 and 2006; this was during SP Tyagi’s tenure as chief of the Air Force. He has denied the allegations against him in the Italian enquiry.
The Defence Ministry’s fact-sheet also stresses that the instructions to revise the tender were issued in 2003, when the BJP-led NDA coalition was in power with Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister. That is the government’s strategy to deflect the blame for the latest in a long line of swindles, a feature that the Opposition wants to exploit in the run-up to next year’s national election.
But the BJP points out that the changes its government had requested were approved by the Congress-led UPA government, with Pranab Mukherjee as Defence Minister, and that the deal was sanctioned and signed in 2010, making the Congress accountable for any financial malfeasance.
The Italian enquiry says that two critical alterations to the original tender were dictated by AgustaWestland: the height at which the helicopters were required to fly was lowered from 18,000 feet to 15,000 feet; and engine failure flying test was added. This favoured AgustaWestland as its helicopters were the only ones in the tender operating with three engines.
‘Can’t blame ex-IAF chief in chopper deal’
BJP leader Jaswant Singh yesterday came out in support of SP Tyagi, against whom charges have been made in Rs 4,000-crore deal, and demanded a quick and thorough probe to ascertain the truth. “We should not make wild allegations against a former air chief. It is not in the interest of both the air force and the country. The probe is on. As Air Chief Marshal (retd) Tyagi himself is saying, the probe should be held early. Why don’t you agree to his suggestion,” said Singh, a former defence minister. Singh’s remarks came at a time when party is targeting the government on the VVIP chopper deal and comparing the scandal to Bofors scam of the late 1980s. Singh, however, accused the defence ministry of sitting over the matter, after the Italian investigators had indicated corruption in the deal.