Scams, scandals and corruption and bribery allegations are not new to Indian politics. The latest to hit the headlines and rock Parliament is the AgustaWestland scam or the VVIP chopper scam.
Although, the deal that was sealed between the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and Italian helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland was called off in 2014 after corruption charges surfaced, the ghosts of the failed pact have come back to haunt the Congress party, now in opposition.
So, what exactly is the AgustaWestland scam all about? Who are the people involved? Let’s take a look at the story so far:
Who all are involved?
Investigators have hinted at several names that includes politicians, senior government and military officials as well as individuals.
Those from the political circle includes the top brass of the Congress party including chief Sonia Gandhi, her advisor Ahmed Patel, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and other senior leaders like M Veerappa Moily, Oscar Fernandez and Vinay Singh.
Government officials and their relatives include Former Indian Air Force (IAF) chief SP Tyagi and his cousins—Juli, Docsa and Sandeep as well as National Security Advisor (NSA) MK Narayanan.
Other Indian individuals: Satish Bagrodia—brother of former Union Minister Santosh Bagrodia, chairman and managing director of IDS Infotech Pratap Aggarwal, Abhishek Verma and his wife Anca Neacsu.
Italian officials: Former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi and former AgustaWestland head Bruno Spagnolini.
Other foreign Individuals: Middlemen Peter Hulett, Christian Michel, Switzerland-based middlemen Guido Ralph Haschke and Ferdinando Carlo Valentino Gerosa
*February 2010: Indian government signs Rs.3600 crore contract with helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland to purchase 12 AW101 choppers for the communication squadron of Indian Air Force to carry the president, the prime minister and other VVIPs.
*February 2013: The then CEO of Finmeccanica (AgustaWestland’s parent company)—Giuseppe Orsi arrested following which the then Defence Minister AK Antony orders a probe into the deal.
*March 2013: Antony says bribes were taken before the deal was signed for manufacturing helicopters, asserts that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe is underway.
*October 2014: A lower court in Italy acquits Tyagi, Orsi and Spagnolini of charges of corruption.
*April 2016: The Milan Court of Appeal—an Italian court (equivalent to a High Court in India) convicts Orsi and awards four-year imprisonment for paying 30 million Euro bribe to Indian politicians, bureaucrats and IAF officials.
The Indian government manages to recover the complete amount paid to AgustaWestland after it scrapped the deal.
What is the controversy about?
The 225-page judgment of the Milan Court, which overturned the lower court&’s order, unraveled multiple facts.
A letter, for instance, which was written by middleman Michel to AgustaWestland&’s India chief Peter Hulett had names of Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, M Veerappa Moily, Oscar Fernandez and Vinay Singh. This letter primarily underlines which aircraft would Sonia Gandhi prefer to fly in.
However, the letter does not mention any bribe money – taken or given – by either side.
The crucial question is the subject matter – why were they discussing the Congress president&’s preference?
Another letter that surfaced hints at the fact that talks for the deal were underway since 2008, which is two years before the deal was actually signed between the Italian company and Indian Government.
Initially, the deal was supposed to be for eight choppers. Later, it was revised and the number was increased to 12.
The mention of the words ‘budget’ and ‘AP’ in documents that were recovered is alleged to be a clear reference to bribes and Sonia Gandhi&’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.