What is AgustaWestland and why is Sonia Gandhi’s name heard in this scam?

AgustaWestland is a British company owned by Finmeccanica. Finmeccanica is a leading industrial group active in the aviation technology and manufacturing  sector in Italy and one of the main global players in aerospace, defence and security businesses. The Indian government in 2010 had entered into an agreement with this company to purchase VVIP choppers. Now, the BJP alleges that Sonia Gandhi has taken a bribe to facilitate this deal.

 

What is the date of the agreement and what is the deal worth?

The UPA government had signed the agreement in February 2010 to purchase 12 helicopters of the AW101 series from AgustaWestland. The total cost of the choppers was ₹3727 crore.

 

What’s the controversy here?

AgustaWestland and its mother company, Finmeccanica, are said to have engaged with ‘mediators’ across the Indian political landscape to get the contract. The ‘mediators’ allegedly include VVIP political leaders and senior air force officers who took bribes amounting to crores of rupees. These facts came to light when the Italian government made a thorough investigation of some of Finmeccanica’s discrepancies three years ago. It is said that the ‘mediators’ bent the stringent rules and regulations of the Indian air force to get this deal through.

 

Who are the prime suspects?

The Italian court has ruled that Finmeccanica had paid a huge amount of money to SP Tyagi, the then chief of the Indian Air Force and his two brothers. The court verdict named Giuseppe Orsi, the then president of Finmeccanica and Bruno Spagnolini, the then CEO of AgustaWestland as the chief perpetrators of the scam, they are both in prison now. Besides, a few Congress leaders’ names, such as Ahmad Patel and Oscar Fernandes, have also come up.

 

What is the documentary evidence?

The main evidence is a recorded conversation between Orsi, Spagnolini, Carlo Gerosa and Guido Ralph Haschke (the last two are mediators). Some notes that Guido took during the meetings are the second piece of evidence. In his hand-written notes, Guido has mentioned a few Indian names in initials. In the recorded discussion, they discussed a payment that had been ‘credited to the brothers of an Indian officer’. The court has said, ‘In the discussion, the culprits have deliberately concealed the name of the chief of the Indian Air Force’.

 

Who is Christian Michel?

He is the kingpin of the deal. He is the one who mediated between the Indian politicians, officers, Guido and Spagnolini. With his help, AgustaWestland also obtained a contract for the supply of spare parts to the Indian Navy. For this deal, the company is said to have paid him a bribe of ₹330 crore. He is currently absconding.

 

How does the then chief of the Air force, Tyagi, feature in the deal?

Tyagi has dealt directly dealt with AgustaWestland. He has bent the rules of Air Force tenders in order to give the tender to AgustaWestland. In the court’s verdict, comprising 225 pages, it has explained the role of Tyagi in this scam in 17 pages.

 

How much money has the company paid to Tyagi?

According to the court papers, the company has paid ₹220 crore to Tyagi’s family, that is, to his two brothers. Besides this, the company has paid ₹375 crore to the ‘mediators’.

 

What are the other names mentioned in the documentary evidence, apart from Tyagi?

In Guido’s notes, the abbreviations ‘POL’, ‘AP’ and ‘FAM’ have been found among others. The BJP alleges that the names of Sonia Gandhi, Ahmad Patel and Tyagi’s names are also there in the documented evidence.

 

What did the UPA Government do when these matters were presented to the Italian courts?

The UPA government suspended the agreement in February 2013, soon after the arrest of Orsi and Spagnolini in Italy and dismissed the agreement in January 2014. Subsequently, the NDA government also blacklisted Finmeccanica.

 

What has the CAG said about the case?

The CAG report of August 2013 has said that technical and other specifications with regard to the purchase of choppers were modified in 2006 in order to facilitate the contract in favour of  AgustaWestland. The government also changed the rules and regulations of Air Force tenders to benefit this Italian company. The courts of Milan have also reiterated this fact.

 

Is Sonia Gandhi innocent?

Subramanian Swamy has said that the mediators in their codes have called Sonia Gandhi as ‘Signora Gandhi’. The 193-page Italian court verdict has said that Signora Gandhi is one of the biggest names behind this scam. The BJP also alleges that Manmohan Singh, M.K. Narayanan have been mentioned in the court verdict.

 

What is the status of the Italian investigation?

The High court of Milan has given its verdict on April 8, 2016. Previously, the lower court had rejected the case due to the lack of evidence. But the higher court had overturned the ruling.

 

What is the status of the CBI investigation?

The CBI had filed cases against SP Tyagi and 12 others accused in the scam. The CBI also raided the houses of the accused and verified documents. It has now completed its investigation and has asked the foreign ministry to obtain a copy of the Italian court’s verdict. Besides, CBI has also issued a ‘red corner notice’ against Christian Michel through the Interpol in December 2015.

 

Banner photo caption: Members of Indian Government attend the trial to Giuseppe Orsi former head of the Italian aerospace and defence giant Finmeccanica on June 19, 2013 at the courtroom in Busto Arsizio near Varese. (AFP)