CORRUPTION has become a part of the UPA-II. And in all major defence deals in this country, how come the name of one family continues to pop up. After Bofors, which during its time was regarded as “mother of all scam”, its now billion dollar VVIP chopper scam. And if it’s big it has to have alleged links with the first family of the country.
Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy has gone on record alleging that Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s family is involved in the deal chopper scandal. If Swamy is to be believed then the “Nehru-Gandhi family has acquired the most part of the commission.”
Swamy alleged: “About half of the total money has gone to Sonia’s two sisters in Italy in the AgustaWestland chopper scandal.”
The defence minister A.K. Antony has gone on to claim that all possible steps have been taken and that CBI has swung into action. A CBI team has been rushed to Milan to meet the Italian prosecutors, who inteorrogated the alleged middleman Guido Haschke Ralph.
Of course he has refused to quit over the deal and said that the government had nothing to hide in connection with the VVIP chopper deal. “We have nothing to hide. The government has nothing to hide. That is why we are waiting for the Parliament session. We will give all the details before Parliament,” he said. Another blue eyed boy of the Gandhis, external affairs minister, Salman J Khurshid has gone on record saying that the deal must not be scrapped. Speaking to the media Khurshid said: “There is a very important segment of opinion, including former air chiefs, who have nothing to do with the AgustaWestland deal, who have certified that the quality of the product is beyond compare. Nobody has raised a question on the quality of the aircraft. Even on the changing of tech specifications, there has been no question – it was done with the best intentions of opening the field to more players.”
Intrestingly despite the tall claims of the government, for reasons, it has not yet bothered to disclose the list of beneficiaries of the deal.
In India and perhaps around the world tainted defence deals cannot be confined to a handful of bureuacrats or top defence personnel. Initially the main target was the former IAF chief S.P. Tyagi. But could Tygai have pulled off this 3,600 crore deal without clearance from the top of the government? It’s unlikely.
Reports appearing in a section of the media has pointed towards some political link. Quoting Italian news reports an English daily in India wrote that the “ father of Christian Michel, the main commission agent in the AgustaWestland deal, was close to the Congress party”. It further stated that the “ other middleman in the deal, Guido Ralph Haschke had served briefly as a Director on the board of Emaar-MGF, a real estate company promoted by the father of Kanishka Singh, who is a close aide of Rahul Gandhi.” In fact Kanishka Singh is called in the party circles as “Rahul Gandhi’s man Friday.” Of course Kanishka apparently has no direct link with Emmar-MGF. It was reported that the company was founded by Ved Prakash Gupta, who was Kanishka’s grandfather, and promoted by SK Singh, Kanishka’s father and an IFS officer who was considered close to Rajiv Gandhi and served as Rajasthan Governor. With regard to the other middleman ,Christian Michel, reports stated that his father, Wolfgang Max Michel Richard, was a British businessman who was active in India during the 1980s and 1990s and was close to the Congress party.
Wolfgang Michel evidently had business interests in Libya, Russia, Iran and Iraq. And could the deal been struck without clearance or the knowledge of the PMO? Again it seems unlikely.
The government has handed over the investigation to the CBI. Question being raised in some section was why the so called “credible investigative agency like CBI “ did not initiate a suo moto probe into the deal ? And as for CBI dealing with the Italian connection one cannot forget the way the agency virtually saved the prime accused in the Bofors case, Ottavio Quattrochi to escape. Till now CBI, which is travelling in Italy has not given any indication of the arms lobbyists involved in the deal.
Incidentally an investigation by a TV channel claim that the controversial Abhishek Verma (now in prison) was in direct contact with Finmeccanica CEO Guisseppe Orsi.
Verma’s aides even held meetings with Ors. But the government remains silent on the issue. Another report pointed out that a top Delhi Police official was allegedly compromised in the setting up of a chopper deal. However, the police chief, Neeraj Kumar reacted by saying that he was special CP in charge of administration and security before CWG and the thought didn’t cross his mind to have any deal with AgustaWestland or buy choppers from them. The investigation by the TV channel claimed to have exposed the link between the multi-crore arms scandal and the Commonwealth games.
The memo called Vicenzo-Massimo, dated 14th September, 2009 which links mega VVIP chopper deal with another planned chopper deal, revealed shocking details of how AgustaWestland through jailed arms dealer Abhishek Verma accessed sensitive information on proposed chopper purchases for the Commonwealth Games. Questions now being raised is — when there are dozens of emails exposing Agustawestland-Abhishek Verma link, why has government so far done nothing?
Reports also indicated that AgustaWestland had also tried to influence the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for another deal for helicopters for the Delhi Police. As per the documents, AgustaWestland offered eight per cent commission to secure the order for helicopters. However, the Delhi Police copter purchase never went through.
Timeline of the VVIP chopper deal:
1999-2000: IAF first moots proposal to buy helicopters for VVIPs keeping in mind frequent visits to Siachen by then defence minister George Fernandes.
IAF seeks choppers that can fly at 18,000ft
Only one company – Eurocopter – is eligible for having a chopper that can fly at that altitude.
Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy’s tenure ended in 2003: Then National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra recommends altering the ceiling requirement from 18,000ft to 15,000ft to avoid a single-vendor situation and also seeks to involve the Special Protection Group (SPG) in the helicopter selection process. Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi’s tenure 2006: Request for proposal issued with revised requirements.
Competition between Sikorsky and AgustaWestland
AgustaWestland declared lowest bidder and also cleared in technical evaluation by SPG, which wanted helicopter with higher roof and wider body. Three-engine AW101 is considered safe option for VVIPs. Air Chief Marshal Fali Major’s tenure 2008-09: Price negotiations begin.
Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik’s tenure 2010: Contract awarded. Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne’s tenure 2012: First three of 12 helicopters delivered.