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AgustaWestland scandal: 225-page bombshell implicating UPA-era politicians given to PM Modi in Italy - Report

Italian court judgment exposes extensive corruption in India's AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scandal, implicating high-profile politicians and bureaucrats from the Congress-led UPA era, following revelations shared with Indian authorities after PM Modi's visit to Italy.

AgustaWestland scandal: Italian court's bombshell implicating UPA-era politicians shared with PM Modi - Report snt
First Published Jun 24, 2024, 11:24 AM IST

In a development set to send shockwaves through India's political landscape, a detailed judgement from an Italian court has unearthed damning evidence in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scandal, potentially implicating high-profile politicians and bureaucrats from the Congress-led UPA era. The revelations, contained in a 225-page court document, have been reportedly shared with Indian authorities following Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Italy, marking a significant breakthrough in the long-standing investigation.

In 2014, just prior to Narendra Modi assuming office as India's Prime Minister, an Italian court convicted four individuals linked to an Italian defense company in one of India's largest bribery scandals. This case involved allegations surrounding the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, implicating high-profile figures and intermediaries in receiving kickbacks exceeding Rs 600 crores. The conviction of these individuals by the Italian court pointed strongly to the existence of bribery in India, yet crucial documents detailing the full scope of corruption, including the identities of recipients within a prominent political family, were reportedly withheld by the Italian government under pressure from India in 2013.

Following Prime Minister Modi's recent visit to Italy, a Business World report suggests that the investigation into the VVIP chopper scam during the Congress-led UPA era may accelerate. Citing sources, the report indicates that Italy has shared detailed court judgements spanning 225 pages and related documents containing crucial evidence of the bribery scandal with PM Modi or his close associates. This development has the potential to implicate prominent politicians and intermediaries in India. PM Modi reportedly expressed his satisfaction during a speech in Italy, remarking, "I have never been so happy."

In February 2013, the AgustaWestland bribery scandal surfaced with the arrests of Bruno Spagnolini, CEO of AgustaWestland, and Giuseppe Orsi, chairman of its parent company Finmeccanica in Italy. Their legal proceedings culminated in a conviction by the Milan Court of Appeals on charges including international corruption, bribery, and money laundering related to a helicopter deal with the Indian Air Force.

Hidden names involved in kick-backs in India

According to reports, the Italian court judgment reveals the alleged involvement of a former Indian Prime Minister and a prominent figure from a influential Indian political family in the AgustaWestland bribery scandal. The 225-page judgment meticulously outlines a trail of bribery supported by crucial handwritten notes, detailing confessions from Giuseppe Orsi and others involved. It presents evidence implicating a general secretary of a major political party and a former National Security Advisor of India.

Specifically, a significant Indian politician and head of a political family is referenced multiple times in the document, including detailed mentions on pages 193 and 204, based on the report quoting sources familiar with its contents.

Documents reportedly reveal that Guido Haschke, one of the convicted middlemen employed by AgustaWestland, identified prominent politicians, party officials, and bureaucrats who allegedly received kickbacks. These identifications reportedly occurred when Italian prosecutors showed Haschke photographs during their investigations.

Additionally, page 9 of the Italian court judgment is said to contain a handwritten note from middleman Christian Michel James, currently in Indian custody, to Haschke. This note purportedly details the allocation of a 30 million Euros kickback. The document allegedly specifies how the bribes were distributed among bureaucrats from the UPA era, including the Defense Secretary, DG Acquisition, and Joint Secretary of the Defense Ministry. It further indicates that Air Force officials received 6 million Euros, while bureaucrats received payments totaling 8.4 million Euros.

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In December 2016, former Indian Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi and his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for allegedly accepting bribes to influence the approval of a helicopter deal during the UPA era. It was alleged that Tyagi recommended lowering the operational ceiling of the helicopters from 6000 meters to 4500 meters, a change that favored AgustaWestland in competing for the contract.

According to documents cited in the court's judgement, an estimated 14 to 16 million Euros were purportedly paid to Indian politicians, including a political secretary identified by the initials 'AP'. Pages 163 and 164 of the judgement reportedly detail interactions involving India's former Prime Minister and describe efforts by Orsi to influence him regarding the deal. Specifically, on page 163, the judgement reportedly includes a note from Orsi, who, while incarcerated, was a atllegedly tempting to influence Italian bureaucrats, Prime Minister Mario Monti, and Ambassador Pasquale Terracciano to reach out to the then Indian Prime Minister.

During the previous Indian government's tenure in 2013, there were allegations of significant pressure to influence the Italian government to withhold details related to what sources describe as India's largest defense scandal since Bofors. These suppressed details are now expected to be revealed.

In April 2019, the Enforcement Directorate named Ahmed Patel, a close confidant and longtime political secretary of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, in the chargesheet concerning AgustaWestland. The day after the chargesheet was filed, Prime Minister Modi, speaking at an election rally in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, accused Congress leaders of involvement in the multi-crore VVIP chopper scam.

"The middleman involved in the helicopter scam has said that those involved in giving bribes include one with the name 'AP' and the other is called 'Fam'. The same charge sheet reveals that 'AP' stands for 'Ahmed Patel' and 'Fam' for 'Family')," PM Modi had said in his speech.

The Business World report further stated, "The documents containing abbreviations "AP" and "FAM" were recovered by the Swiss police and corroborated by the Italian court during the trial of Bruno Spagnolini, Guiseppe Orsi and middlemen Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa."

In 2018, India successfully extradited Christian Michel James, a middleman linked to the VVIP chopper deal, from Dubai along with his associate Rajiv Saxena. Saxena's firm was accused of facilitating significant kickbacks to Indian politicians amounting to millions of Euros. Despite Michel's initial reluctance to disclose names, progress in the case was impeded by crucial evidence believed to be concealed in documents held in Italy. With Italy now reportedly sharing these vital documents, investigations and legal proceedings related to the VVIP chopper scam in India are expected to move forward, according to sources cited in the report.

In July 2014, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) began investigating under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, alleging that AgustaWestland paid 70 million Euros in kickbacks. These funds were allegedly laundered through two channels: one managed by Christian Michel James, and another by Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, middlemen engaged by AgustaWestland. Out of the 30 million Euros transferred, 12.4 million Euros were deposited into accounts of Interstellar Technologies Ltd in Mauritius, owned by Rajiv Saxena, and later disbursed as kickbacks in India.

According to a CBI affidavit submitted in court, 30 million Euros were paid or intended for payment to officials of the Indian Air Force, Ministry of Defense, government bureaucrats, politicians, and a prominent Indian family. However, crucial details and the complete trail of these payments were reportedly concealed in Italy.

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