Chopper scam: Long-drawn legal battle ahead

In this file photo an AW101 VVIP Helicopter model is on display at a Finmeccanica stall in Bengaluru.  

Even as trial proceedings begin against Finmeccanica CEO Guiseppe Orsi in Milan and the Italian court refusing to share probe details with India, a long drawn and tough legal battle appears to be on the cards.

As a joint team of the CBI, Ministry of Defence and External Affairs is scheduled to arrive in Italy on Tuesday, it would be a hard task for them to mount efforts to find out the beneficiaries from India of the alleged kickbacks in the Rs. 3,600 crore VVIP chopper deal that was inked with AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, in February 2010.

In the absence of details coming out of judicial channels in Italy into the hands of the Indian investigators, they can scrutinise minutely the probe report of the Italian investigators who have conducted their probe over the past one year into the activities of Finmeccanica, suspected of involvement in international corruption to bag deals not only in India but in other countries as well.

The 64-page report shows in detail how money was given on a monthly basis using front companies like IDS Tunisia in which IDS Infotech had made investments. From February 2010 to December 2010, nearly €510,000 were transferred every month under the garb of what seems like bogus software exports. The route was used by the intermediaries or middlemen of Finmeccanica. The IDS connection is the common thread through the trail of kickbacks though it is not clearly shown who are running the firm.

The report gives details of payments made in the period of five years between 2007 and 2012, saying several million euros was paid by AgustaWestland into IDS Tunisia and the money was routed through Tunisia to IDS India against fake bills raised for development of software.

Aeromatrix also figures in the taped conversations of suspects in Italy. Among its directors were Swiss residents Guido Ralph Haschke and Ferdinando Carlo Valentino Gerosa, who reportedly acted as middlemen for AgustaWestland and helped in swinging the chopper deal from India.

Mr. Haschke also worked as a consultant for Finmeccanica, according to the Italian charge sheet. In intercepted conversations of the two, as quoted in the Italian report, the name of lawyer Gautam Khaitan also appears as the one who rendered assistance to them. Mr. Khaitan later has denied his involvement.

The Italian investigation report into the allegations of international corruption of by defence giant Finmeccanica which bagged the Rs. 3,600 crore contract from India to supply 12 VVIP AgustaWestland choppers reveals a complex maze of companies and middlemen through whom the kickback of nearly Rs. 362 crores was routed.

The report names the three Tyagi brothers — Julie, Docsa and Sandeep, cousins of the former Indian Air Force chief S. P. Tyagi — as intermediaries in corruption. It names Mr. Haschke and Mr. Gerosa and Christian Michel as intermediaries in the conclusion of agreements and supervisors to provide the resources needed to pay the “corrupt” Indian officials.

However, the former IAF chief, while admitting that the three Tyagi brothers were his cousins, has denied any knowledge about the nature of their business. He has maintained that while he was heading the Air Force between 2005 and 2007, the deal was finalised and signed three years later.

A detailed fact-sheet, released by the Defence Ministry on February 14, 2013 said that operational requirements for VVIP helicopters were deliberated at length between the Air Force, the National Security Advisor, the Special Protection Group (SPG), the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defence Ministry between March 2005 to September 2006 and changes were incorporated regarding bringing down the operational altitude to 4,500 metres and the cabin height. It also stated that the number of helicopters proposed for procurement was revised from eight to 12 by adding four in non-VIP configuration for security reasons.

The Italian charge sheet claimed that changes in technical requirements favoured AgustaWestland in the bidding process.

The Italian chargesheet gives details of interrogations of the middlemen and also relies on intercepted conversations in accordance with the Italian rules and legal provisions to elaborate upon the activities of Finmeccanica, nexus between the middlemen and their detailed knowledge about procurement of 12 AgustaWestland 101 helicopters by the Indian Defence Ministry.

One of the intercepts between Mr. Gerosa and Mr. Haschke which the report says is of “absolute importance” is dated November 19, 2012 which refers to the role played by Mr. Khaitan. In the intercept, Mr. Haschke boasts of squandering €10-15 million in dancers and champagne without sharing it with anyone. The intercept also refers to the route of Mauritius and Tunisia which was allegedly used to launder money received as kickbacks.

The report noted that during further probe in April 2012 at Mr. Haschke’s mother’s home the investigators found important documents hidden under a bed. The report used the intercepted conversation to show that corruption of public officials, being indulged by the intermediaries, was done with the consent of the leadership of AgustaWestland, especially now arrested CEO Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spangnolini, who headed AgustaWestland and is also under detention. It alleged that the top officials of the Italian firm were also aware that money was transferred through a fictitious contract with IDS India and Tunisia which were headed by intermediaries.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 5:59:06 AM |

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