Bofors encore: Italy names part Indian beneficiaries
Govt pussy-footing on inquiring into the mega-defence scandals
IS the country suffering from corruption fatigue of the UPA government? Within two hours of the arrest of chairman and CEO of Finmeccanica Giuseppe Orsi in Italy along with three other top officials including AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini, our Union defence minister AK Anthony hurriedly instituted a CBI investigation into the Rs 3,546-crore deal. This should not have come as a surprise for the government as in early 2012 media reports in India suggested sweet-heart deals between the Indian government and the Italian helicopter manufacturer.
The revelations also come at an opportune time for the Opposition parties to launch a broadside against the UPA government which has been beset by a major financial scandal involving top echelons of Congress party every five months during the present tenure. There are several aspects which make the Finmeccanica helicopter deal stunningly different from the rest of the scandals earlier.
One, if the prime minister was held responsible for oversight and indifference to whatever was happening in the 2G scandal on which the Supreme Court passed strictures, the Finmeccanica deal involves a Union defence minister who has been hitherto known for his honesty and impeccability.
Second, the then Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi has been named in the investigation reports emanating from Italy as a beneficiary of the multi-crore deal in which over Rs 350-crore kickbacks have been paid.
Third, the Congress party has not fielded any of its aggressive spokespersons to defend the deal, almost as if conceding defeat even before the storm has arrived.
Fourth, whenever there is involvement of Italian companies or individuals striding the corridors of power in India there is a lurking suspicion that the Congress president will take a lenient view. A few months ago India let go of Italian marines who were allegedly involved in the killing of Indian fishermen.
Fifth, the shadow of Bofors hangs perilously over the fate of any such CBI inquiry into Finmeccanica helicopter deal as the country has seen how the CBI assiduously refused to question relevant people in the deal as revealed by several foreign investigation agencies as well as the way another prime accused Quattrochi was deliberately allowed to slip away.
The worst-case scenario for the present UPA government would be if the scandal lingers till the next elections or if several other related scams are unearthed towards the fag end of the current government’s term. Even though there have been valiant efforts made by the Congress to retrieve lost ground especially on the issue of terrorism, all that can come to a naught if the financial scandals take centre-stage.
It is not very surprising that in spite of the Finmeccanica scandal coming out almost a year ago the government failed to make any credible inquiry, especially when most of the details of the scandal was available on the internet for the asking.
When Union defence minister AK Anthony announced a CBI inquiry into the deal it was almost passé. If the top decision-makers of the Congress party have devised the strategy of fielding an honest minister with the defence portfolio, the game is up. Questions of the ministers’ inaction are being raised even as he soft-peddles the issue. On the one hand, Italy, just as any other European country, is not economically in the pink of health and a Rs 3,546-crore deal would mean a lot. Yet, Italy chose to institute an honest inquiry which risked losing the deal, as the payments are yet to be made India. Now that India has suspended payments Italy will not only lose the contract but even have Finmeccanica black-listed by India.
If Italians can take stringent action against the bribe-giver in their country, why can’t Indian government show equal alacrity in bring to book the bribe-takers. The moot point raised by many political parties is about the sincerity of Congress party in taking action against the guilty in this deal when the scandal has originated in Italy, because Italy has a special place in India’s scandalous history.
When India chose to buy helicopters from Finmeccanica the alarm bells should have started to ring in the Union defence ministry for the obvious reason that Finmeccanica helicopters have been known to be way too costly even for countries like the US.
In 2009 US president Barack Obama had rejected a variant of AW-101 helicopters on the basis of its high price. Many pro-government defence experts have said that the needs of the US security agencies and military are different from the Indian requirements and hence there should not be any comparisons made. That is a specious argument as the US has been more effective in dealing with internal security than India, so why should India buy a costlier helicopter than the US does? The US Marine Corps chopper ‘Marine One’ ferries the US President, under the most testing security conditions. The US helicopters meant for transporting VVIPS are known for their high-tech and ‘souped-up’ machinery compared to the Indian variants.
Even though the Finmeccanica helicopter scandal has only started to spill the beans and the recipients of the multi-crore bribes are yet to be identified it is quite clear that many such scandals will see the light of day by the time the next general elections arrive. And it won’t be surprising if the scandals subsume the very top of the Congress party as the truth has very strange ways of revealing itself.
Former Air Chief Marshal a fall guy like Kalmadi and Raja?
FOR the first time in Indian history a former military chief has been named as a beneficiary of a multi-crore scandal. After Bofors deal scandalized Indian polity for involving the highest among the political class the government has decided to completely do away with middle-men in defence procurement from foreign manufacturers.
But the investigation report made by the Italians on the Finmeccanica helicopter deal named former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi as a beneficiary, even as he admitted that the three agents in the deal were his cousins.
This raises some pertinent questions on how and why should kin of serving military top brass be allowed to openly flaunt their connections with the defence ministry and bureaucracy to siphon off commission in mega-deals which are questionable on price as well as quality. A few months ago Tatra trucks had been at the centre of a raging defence scandal in the country.
In the Finmeccanica helicopter deal 1,00,000 euros have been allegedly paid to the three cousins (Julie Tyagi, Docsa Tyagi and Sandeep Tyagi) of the former air-chief marshal. In a preliminary 64-page report filed in the tribunal of Busto Arsizio city, Italian investigators have nailed the trail of funds through alleged middlemen—Guido Haschke, Carlo Gerosa and Christian Michel. “They promised and managed to pay, through brothers (Sanjeev) Julie Tyagi, Dosca Tyagi and Sandeep Tyagi, a certain amount of money, not yet quantified, to Air Chief Marshal Shashi Tyagi”. It won’t be surprising when the scandal snowballs the appointment of SP Tyagi as Air Chief Marshal also comes under a cloud.
The tragedy is that the real culprit is always behind the curtains. Sheila Dikshit, Jaipal Reddy, Kumari Shelja were not probed is the Commonwealth Scam to shield the real beneficiaries of the scam. Kalmadi was the fall guy. Raja was made the fall guy in the 2G. Coalgate was never probed into its logical end. Tatra Scandal and the Chopper deal like all other massive defence deals lead to the same cover-up to protect the fountainhead of all that is shady about the UPA. After all, AK Antony is small fry, a much smudged rubber stamp.