The CBI will seek custody of former air force chief SP Tyagi for detailed questioning when he is produced in court on Saturday after his arrest in a now-scrapped chopper deal that has kicked off a political controversy.
Delhi-based lawyer Gautam Khaitan and the former air force chief’s cousin Sanjeev Tyagi were also arrested on Friday for allegedly receiving and facilitating bribes in the Rs 3,727-crore deal with Italian manufacturer, Finmeccanica, to procure 12 choppers to ferry government dignitaries.
This is the first time a retired service chief has been arrested in India’s military history.
CBI spokesperson Devpreet Singh said in a statement the accused will be produced before the “competent court” where their remand would be sought.
71-year-old Tyagi, who retired in 2007, was called for questioning to the CBI headquarters along with Khaitan and Sanjeev Tyagi.
Sources said they were arrested after they “refused to cooperate” with investigators.
These are the first arrests in the case, three years after the investigating agency registered an FIR in 2013.
The alleged bribery has turned into a political controversy with the BJP-led government citing a Milan court’s documents referring to middlemen allegedly talking about one ‘Signora Gandhi’ being the “driving force” behind the deal, which the ruling party says is a reference to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The court documents also refer to other Congress leaders, Manmohan Singh, Ahmed Patel and Oscar Fernandez.
The Congress denies the allegations and Sonia Gandhi has accused the government of “character assassination”.
The chopper case also led to several disruptions in Parliament. The matter was taken up in both the houses this May. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar had said in the Lok Sabha that some members of the UPA government were the real beneficiaries, while Tyagi only received “chillar” – or small change – from the scam.
Investigations gathered pace after an Italian court of appeals pointed fingers at 71-year-old Tyagi in April 2016, observing that there were “unmistakable indications of corruption” by an Indian officer.
“It was revealed during an investigation that such undue favours were allegedly shown to the said UK-based private company (AgustaWestland) by accepting illegal gratification from the accused vendors through middlemen and relatives, including his (Tyagi’s) cousin and an advocate. They accepted the illegal gratification for exercising influence through illegal means, or using personal influence over the public servants concerned,” the CBI spokesperson said.
According to the CBI, Tyagi allowed the air force to reduce the service ceiling for choppers from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres – helping AgustaWestland enter the fray. The firm’s choppers are not capable of flying up to 6,000 metres.