Experienced bribe-takers know how to cover the money trail

Despite the Italian court convicting the bribe-givers in the Agusta-Westland deal, there has hardly been any progress at the Indian end to track down the bribe-takers. Yes, former Air Force Chief SP Tyagi and his cousins got paid. That much is pukka. But what they received was chicken-feed compared to what the politicians, or their frontmen, received for placing the order for a dozen VVIP choppers for a total amount of ₹3,600 crore. About 10% of that was earmarked for kickbacks.

 

Investigations by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate are proceeding at a snail’s pace, and not necessarily because of any failure on their part. Though the Tyagis and their lawyer Gautam Khaitan have admitted to receiving money from the front companies set up by the middlemen in the deal, both claim these were not bribes but professional fees for the services rendered.

 

Being a lawyer, Khaitan, belonging to the once-reputed Kolkata-centric law firm, O.P. Khaitan and Company, is unable to explain the web of shell companies he had set up to receive tainted funds. In recent years, Khaitan had raised his work profile in Dubai and its neighbouring region. The former Air Force Chief, meanwhile, is hard put to justify investments in commercial properties.

 

Yet, the Tyagis and the Khaitans may not be of much interest to the current political establishment. In the absence of concrete evidence linking top Congress bosses to the payoffs, the latest corruption scandal too may peter out as a damp squib. Sources in the CBI-ED, however, do not rule out summoning the Comptroller and Auditor General of India Shashikant Sharma.

 

Depending on the leads investigating agencies have managed to get from the sustained grilling of Tyagi and Khaitan, the agency might consider summoning senior Congress leaders. But that decision would need political clearance and will have to be based on substantive evidence linking them to the payoffs. Of this, at least thus far, there is no evidence.

Interestingly, everyone is cherry-picking from the interview Christian Michel, the Dubai-based wheeler-dealer, gave to a couple of Indian media outlets. His claim that he has no knowledge about Sonia Gandhi being paid is being cited by Congress Party to rubbish the Modi government’s claim about her involvement. On the other hand, the BJP has picked on Michel’s claim that a huge portion of the kickbacks flowed back to Italy to buttress the charge that Sonia Gandhi was involved, since her close relatives, including sister and mother, live there.

 

When all is said and done, the fear is that the AgustaWestland scam too might go the Bofors way. In both scams, you know who the real bribe-takers are but the investigators are unable to pin them down for want of actionable evidence. It is so because crooks are invariably a step or two ahead of the authorities, especially when they deal with an opaque web of shell companies floated in tax havens whose governments refuse to cooperate, a huge plus in their favour since the economies of these tiny nations/principalities are crucially dependent on the provision of top secret financial services.

 

Goebbels has his match in propagandist Kejriwal 

The good news is that the PIL, challenging the humongous increase in the publicity budget of the Delhi government from ₹26 crore in the last year of Shiela Dikshit’s rule to ₹526 crore in the first year of Arvind Kejriwal’s rule, is being pulled out of cold storage. A two-member bench of the Delhi High Court, headed by Chief Justice G Rohini, is set to take up the PIL soon. Maybe that is the reason there is respite from the full-page ads singing paeans to CM Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP government. The obscene excess seems to have stirred the conscience of the people.

 

The level of obscenity it is can be gauged from the fact that the total spend of the Modi government on all forms of publicity in its first year was under ₹1,000 crore, virtually the same as in the last year of the UPA. Whereas, the self-avowed aam aadmi government in Delhi, a union territory with less than 1% of the total population of the country, earmarked more than half of what the Modi government spent for its all-India coverage.

Curiously, the Kejriwal government did not route the ads through any of the established agencies. It set up its own agency. Normally, advertising agencies operate on 10% to 15% commission, with some reputed agencies going up to even 20% in special cases. There is no clarity on who provides the ad agency services to the Kejriwal government and if the people involved are the same who had earlier worked for the party during its election campaign.

 

Meanwhile, given the huge publicity budget at its disposal, the Kejriwal government has hogged media attention, with owners of media outlets perforce providing an inordinately disproportionate space and favourable coverage to the leaders of the government of the city-state. Taxpayers’ rupees are thus misused to build up the image of Kejriwal and his party.

 

As a harassed Delhi babu commented during the failed but much tom-tommed odd-even phase two, had the Delhi government purchased 500 air-conditioned buses instead of wasting ₹526 crore on self-glorification, the odd-even scheme may have made some dent in pollution levels. Indeed.

 

Incidentally, cynics have suggested that the AAP change its election symbol from broom (jhaadu) to loudspeaker (bhompu).

 

All is not well in First Family

A group of Congressmen was seen carrying placards which had pictures of Priyanka, Robert Vadra and Sonia Gandhi. The slogan under the photos read: Vadra, Priyanka Lao, Congress Bachao. These placards were prominent at the so-called Save Democracy march the Congress leaders had organized from Jantar Mantar to Parliament Street Police Station, hardly a distance of 200 metres. But that is not the reason why we mention the Vadra posters.

The fact that Congress spokespersons on the evening news television shows were hard put to explain the placards seeking Vadra’s induction in the party, would suggest that the top leadership had not sanctioned them. Since the man behind this show-stealer was a long-time buddy of Vadra, one Jagdish Sharma, the obvious question is whether Vadra is not amenable to advice from his mother-in-law and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. It would seem so, especially from his recent remarks to a private news agency where he talked of plunging into politics and saving the Congress. Is a rebellion brewing in the First Family?

 

Gandhis: rassi jal gayi, bal nahi gaya (Gandhis marginalized but still arrogant)               

Civility and good sense have vanished from politics. And for this the Gandhis are to blame. Their petty-mindedness resulted in their disapproving of any celebration of the birth anniversaries of late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. So much so that even Manmohan Singh, who owes his political career to Rao, stopped showing up at Rao’s birth anniversary functions at the Andhra Bhawan, hardly a kilometre from the Prime Minister’s Office.  

 

Read more by the author: Virendra Kapoor column: From Quattrocchi to Agusta

 

Now, forget just the Gandhis, no senior leader of the Congress Party, especially from Punjab, cared to attend a recent event at the Rashtrapati Bhavan meant to mark the 100th birth anniversary of the late President Giani Zail Singh. President Pranab Mukherjee paid handsome tributes to the pragmatic Giani in the presence of a few members of his family and a number of his former aides.

 

Virendra Kapoor is a Delhi-based journalist. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Asianet Newsable