Key events in the VVIP chopper scandal

December 09, 2016 06:06 pm | Updated 06:06 pm IST

Angry exchanges between the Congress and ruling BJP members over Subramanian Swamy bringing up Sonia Gandhi’s name in Parliament over the AgustaWestland helicopter contract bribery case led to two adjournments of the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. The BJP has been targeting UPA leaders after an Italian court, on April 7, >found evidence of corruption in the helicopter deal between the Indian Air Force and Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland.

Association dates back to the 1980s

Back in 1985, India bought 21 Westland helicopters after then British Margaret Prime Minister Thatcher persuaded her Indian counterpart Rajiv Gandhi to ignore the advice of his experts, who were against the sale. The money for the deal, put at nearly £65 million, came out of Britain’s aid budget, and was given to India specifically for purchasing the helicopters. Westland at the time was a solely British aerospace company that had been manufacturing helicopters after World War II. However, the copters that were sold proved to be a disaster — two of them crashed in August 1988 and February 1989, killing over 10 passengers. >Continue reading

Tracking the transactions:

August 1999: Air HQ proposes procurement of VIP helicopters

February 2010: Ministry of Defence concludes a contract with AgustaWestland for 12 VVIP choppers at euro 556.262 million (Rs. 3,726.96 crore)

November 2012 to February 2013 : First three VVIP AgustaWestland helicopters >arrive at Palam Air Force base .

February 12, 2013: Finmeccanica chief Giuseppe Orsi, accused in VVIP chopper scam, arrested by Italian police for alleged payoffs.

February 25, 2013: The CBI >registers inquiry against 11 persons , including former IAF Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, and his cousins, besides four companies, for alleged kickbacks by AgustaWestland. A government statement confirms that the contract signed with AgustaWestland includes specific contractual provisions against bribery and the use of undue influence as well as an Integrity Pact.

A charge sheet compiled by the prosecutor’s office in Busto Arsizio, a massive 64-page document that contains transcripts of conversations, details of allegedly “fictitious” bills submitted in order to inflate prices and siphon off bribes, etc., says €100,000 was given to Tyagi brothers. The charge sheet also gives details of “fictitious” bills emitted by IDS India from 2007 to 2011 for a total of 21,425,647.00 Euros. For instance in 2008, the list of bills and their reference numbers mention the sums of 900,000 Euros (6.11.2008), listed as “advance payment according to article 7.3 of the “agreement”, 170,000 Euros (12.2008) as “first monthly payment according to article 2 of the “agreement” and 255,000 Euros (31.12.2008) listed as “second monthly payment according to article 2 of the “agreement”. The payments continue according to “the agreement” until 2011.

February 27, 2013: The government moves a motion in the Rajya Sabha for the >formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) “to inquire into the allegations of payment of bribes in the acquisition of VVIP helicopters by the Ministry of Defence from M/s AgustaWestland and the role of alleged middlemen in the transaction.”

January 2014: India >terminates VVIP chopper deal on the grounds of breach of pre-contract integrity pact. Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy is named arbitrator. Following the termination, Agusta denies wrongdoing and issues this statement: “AgustaWestland has not received any communication from India’s Ministry of Defence in line with the reports today. The company is, therefore, unable to comment beyond reiterating the denial of allegations of wrongdoing and the continued intention to robustly defend its reputation.”

January 11, 2014:>Mysterious initials crop up in AgustaWestland trial. Eugenio Fusco, the Public Prosecutor conducting trial, asks a alleged middleman, Ralph Guido Haschke, if the initials ‘AP’ in one of the documents refers to Ahmed Patel, senior Congressman and Sonia Gandhi confidant.

September, 2014: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) >makes first arrest in the money laundering probe. Gautam Khaitan, a former board member of a Chandigarh-based tech firm named in the case, is arrested for his alleged role in routing funds for kickbacks.

October, 2014 : Mr. Orsi and ex-AgustaWestland head Bruno Spagnolini are >acquitted of corruption charges by an Italian court . But the two are sentenced to a two-year jail term on charges of falsification of invoices.

April 7, 2016 : An Italian court reverses the acquittal of executives of Finmeccanica.The unofficial translation of the order shows evidence of corruption in the helicopter deal between IAF and Finmeccanica. The order also says that some of the kickbacks travelled to India as payment for various officials. The court says former Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi is probably among those who benefited from the kickbacks. The court order also has some evidence mentioning the names of Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, but there is no evidence that they were bribed. Nor does the court order indict the three.

April 26, 2016: BJP targets Congress leaders over recently found evidence of corruption. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad says, “Bribe givers have been convicted. Why are bribe takers silent? Antony [the then Defence Minister] should answer if leaders of Congress are involved in it or not. Are they from your party or not? Please come clean.”

April 26, 2016: Accused middleman in the deal, James Christian Michel, >says he is willing to answer all questions from Indian investigators . Mr. Michel tells The Hindu , “I think this is the only way to settle this, a direct questioning. I wish the CBI or ED would come here. Because I can be helpful with documentation.” He claims that he has sent a written offer in the case to Prime Minister Narendra Modi but hasn’t received a reply.

December 9, 2016: CBI arrests retired Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, his cousin Sanjiv Tyagi and lawyer Gautam Khaitan

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