The Congress-led UPA government may be remembered by some as a government run by the shadows of a kingmaker, from the Nehru-Gandhi family. The 10 years of administration has quite a few ups and downs. But the downs started popping up throughout the tenure of UPA-2 and after the NDA came to power. These downs outplay the reforms (if any!!) brought about by the UPA. The coal gate, the 2g-3g and CWG were a few to name the feather of scams to the cap of the UPA. But another scam which popped up for the first time in 2013 is the AgustaWestland case. The background of this case dates back to February 2010 when the, then in power UPA signed a government contract with UK-based AgustaWestland to buy 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs 3,600 crore. The purpose of this deal was to have choppers fly VVIPs like the president, prime minister and others. However the deal was put on a hold with immediate effect in 2013 after Bruno Spagnolin, CEO of AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of the Italian parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested on charges of bribing middlemen to acquire the deal with the Indian AirForce.
The proceedings of the investigation saw an Italian court naming the former Chief of IAF, SP Tyagi in the scam. The court claimed that he received a kickback from the parent company Finmeccanica to sign a deal with AugustaWestland. However, later in 2014, Tyagi was given a clean chit stating no Indian official was involved in the corruption.
The questions about Tyagi’s involvement had popped up after a set of events which followed the initial proposal of IAF to buy choppers. The Indian Air Force had urged the Defence Ministry to purchase helicopters that were capable of flying in high-altitude areas like Siachen and Tiger Hill. The evaluation of AugutaWestland AW101 was disappointing with the Chopper being able to make altitudes only up to 4,572 feet, but the chopper was assumed to be able to fly 6,000 feet. The alleged middleman in the deal, Guido Haschke, revealed that while AW101 did not meet the technical requirements of the IAF, the deal was signed after Haschke tweaked the contract with the help of his Indian contacts. AugustaWestland allegedly paid €30 million in bribes, of which €20 million was routed through Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
A CBI report that came in later said that prior to Tyagi being appointed as Air Force chief, the IAF had ‘’vehemently opposed’’ the lowering of the altitude requirement. This changed after Tyagi came into the picture and the IAF “conceded to reduce” altitude requirements, allowing AugustaWestland to re-enter the bidding process. Initial investigations by the Italian prosecutor said that Tyagi had personally met Haschke before and that the bribery took place via Tyagi’s cousins Julie, Sandeep, and Dosca. Tyagi, however, has denied any claims of having met Haschke.
The scam which is being called India’s biggest defence scam after Bofors has put the congress Supremo Sonia Gandhi in a spot of bother and deep trouble with her name appearing in the conversation between three middlemen — Carlos Gerosa, Christian Michel, and Guildo Haschke. The three are believed to have mentioned the name of a ‘Mrs. Gandhi’ in their conversation. The Milan Court of Appeals, in its judgment, noted the conversations between the above mentioned, who mention ‘Mrs. Gandhi’ as being the ‘driving force behind the VIP’ and her close aides Ahmed Patel and Pranab Mukherjee. However Pranab Mukherjee is referred to as being the ‘British High Commissioner’. In a letter dated 15 March 2008, Christian Michel wrote to Peter Hulet, the then head of India region sales and liaison for AugustaWestland, saying “Dear Peter, since Mrs. Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP, she will no longer fly with MI8 . Mrs. Gandhi and her closest advisers are the aids of the High Commissioner, senior adviser Prime Minister Manmohan Singh obviously the main figure, then there’s Ahmed Patel Secretary”.
This issue is making a lot of noise in the Rajya sabha lately. Irrespective of the case and the popularity of the names involved in the case, justice has to prevail and the guilty are to be punished. But the alleged involvement of Mrs. Gandhi in the case is making the case a political battle, where the ruling NDA and the opposition UPA are fighting to embarrass each other. This case, however, is going to shadow the path of Smt. Sonia Gandhi the way Bofors shadowed the political path of Late. Rajiv Gandhi. The party which is apparently fighting for its political existence is on a back foot with this case tightening its hold on the party president. But keeping the political flavor of the case aside, we strongly hope and urge that the guilty are tried and brought to justice. Let the flame of truth flash bright and burn all traces of corruption and false play.