“One note says the Brigadier demanded €5 million to tilt the decision in favour of the Italian firm”
The Central Bureau of Investigation has registered a case against a Brigadier of the Army Aviation Corps for allegedly attempting to favour the Italian company AgustaWestland in a contract for procurement of 197 helicopters, separate from the VVIP helicopter deal.
The case has been instituted on the basis of documents seized from the alleged middlemen, Guido Ralph Haschke, by Italian authorities in connection with the now-terminated VVIP helicopter deal. The papers have been given to the CBI through the Ministry of Defence.
According to the CBI, the case has been registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act against Brigadier V.S. Saini, unknown officials and private persons. It alleges that the accused attempted to favour the Italian operations of AgustaWestland in the procurement of 197 R and S helicopters.
“The matter came to light when an unsigned note was seized by the Italian prosecutors during a search at the residence of Mr. Haschke’s mother. The note allegedly states the Brigadier, as in-charge of the flight evaluation team, could tilt the decision in favour of the Italian firm but had demanded €5 million in return for the job,” a CBI official said. The Brigadier was part of the team that was conducting a trial of the competing light utility helicopters. The procurement was to be done for replacement of Chetak and Cheetah helicopters for reconnaissance and evacuation in high-altitude regions. However, the process was called off in 2007.
“The Brigadier’s name cropped up during the probe into the allegations of kickbacks in the VVIP helicopter deal. Documents running into hundreds of pages have been provided by the Italian authorities to the Defence Ministry. Scrutinising the documents is a time-consuming process, and it also requires translation,” another official said.
AgustaWestland has denied any wrongdoing and refuted all charges in the past.
According to sources in Italy close to the ongoing bribery trial of the former chiefs of Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland, Giuseppi Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini, Guido Haschke “has talked extensively and given ample evidence that bribes were paid.”
The sources, contacted on the phone, also expressed satisfaction that India had “finally taken action by scrapping, and not just suspending, the deal. Now we are awaiting CBI charges against the main accused. We have given the Indian authorities some 1,10,000 pages of documents with certain files containing highly incriminating evidence. Swift action should be taken,” the source told The Hindu.
The bribes for the 3600 crore purchase of 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters were allegedly paid to several persons, including former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi and his cousins Julie, Docsa and Sandeep Tyagi and channelled to them by Christian Michel, a 51-year-old British “consultant” through front companies. Michel has been linked to various arms deals in the past and his current whereabouts are unknown. There is some confusion over Michel’s exact surname, since the Italian press regularly reports it as Mitchell.
Public Prosecutor Eugenio Fusco last month presented an Italy court with notes, scribbled with a pen, giving figures and acronyms. The notes indicated that €6 million had allegedly been paid to pol (or politicians), 8.4 million to bur (bureaucrats) and 6 million to some Indian Air Force (Af) officials.
Questioned at length by Mr. Fusco at the last court hearing on December 6, Guido Haschke told the court that the document had been written in early 2008 in the London offices of Christian Michel/Mitchell. “With this sheet of paper he explained what the budget would be for this operation. In other words what financial provision would have to be made,” Haschke told the court. “After this meting our relations began to deteriorate,” he said.
The sheet of paper also bears the sum of 30 million euros, purportedly the commission to be paid to Christian Michel/Mitchell.
14 or 15 million of the 30 million earmarked for him would be paid to “The Family”, that is to say S.P. Tyagi and his cousins, Haschke was told. He said AgustaWestland had retained his services along with the services of Michel/Mitchell as “consultants”.
Another 28 million euros, destined for Haschke and his Indian partners were added to Michel/Mitchell’s 30 million to make a total of 58 million euros finally paid out as bribes and commissions.
But Orsi’s lawyer Ennio Amodio said that none of the payments indicated on the document were made. “Not a single bit of real evidence has so far been produced,” Professor Amodio told the court.
However, Mr. Fusco reconstructed the network of companies set up by Haschke and Michel/Mitchell that served to funnel the bribes.
It was Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, his partner, who first brought up the question of a company based in Mauritius through which the cash travelled. Wiretaps of their conversations made by the carabinieri in 2012 already indicate a conspiracy to corrupt.
“They can say that the technical engineering we provided was very expensive but they can never say it was corruption,” Haschke tells Gerosa in one of the wiretaps produced in court. “Before they send letter rogatory to Mauritius they must realise that it’s all over in Mauritius. That was wound up ten years ago".
Haschke confirmed that he had met Christian Michel/Mitchell several times at the hotel Villa Malpensa where the British national was a frequent guest.