A CBI special investigation team (SIT) will probe corruption accusations in the AgustaWestland chopper scam and loan default allegations against liquor baron Vijay Mallya and former Paramount Airways promoter M Thiagarajan, possibly fast-tracking inquiry in the high-profile cases.
The Central Bureau of Investigation said on Thursday it set up an SIT and deployed additional sleuths with diverse specialisations to expedite probes in a handful of high-profile corruption cases with a “single-minded focus”.
“For now, the SIT will be probing the AgustaWestland bribery scam and the bank loan default cases against Vijay Mallya and Paramount Airways’ then promoter. But more cases will be entrusted to it as and when required,” said an agency source.
The CBI is probing allegations that the United Kingdom-based AgustaWestland used middlemen and bribes worth Rs 360 crore to bag the defence helicopter deal. The deal to purchase 12 choppers went to the company after a key technical requirement was relaxed in March 2005.
The scam dominated the recently concluded budget session of Parliament with the BJP using the allegations to paint the Congress leadership into a corner.
Mallya’s alleged loan default of over Rs 9,000 crores has also dominated headlines since the industrialist left India for the UK in March.
A consortium of banks led by the State Bank of India have approached the Supreme Court and the government has initiated deportation proceedings but without much success.
The SIT will be headed by CBI’s additional director Rakesh Asthana, a Gujarat-cadre IPS officer of 1984 batch. He will report to the agency chief Anil Sinha.
Asthaana currently oversees probes by CBI’s economic offences zones (1 and 2) and other zones including Kolkata, Northeast, Chennai and Chandigarh.
The agency has been probing the AgustaWestland case since 2013 but is still awaiting money-trail details from seven countries that will enable it to submit a chargesheet against the case’s 13 accused persons and six firms.
The 13 accused persons included former air force chief SP Tyagi, three non-Indian middlemen including Christian Michel and Guido Haschke, the firm’s former top officer Bruno Spagnolini and Italian parent Finmeccanica’s former top officer Giuseppe Orsi.
The six accused firms included AgustaWestland and its parent Finmeccanica. Orsi and Spagnolini were convicted for corruption in the deal by an Italian court recently.
In the Mallya case, last July the CBI registered a case against the 60-year-old and his defunct Kingfisher Airlines for alleged default on a Rs 900 crore loan by the public sector IDBI bank.
The CBI questioned Mallya thrice before he left India and says it will widen its probe into the baron’s total bank loan defaults worth around Rs 9,000 crore.
On March 7, the Enforcement Directorate that probes financial crimes, registered a money-laundering case against Mallya and Kingfisher.
Last month, the CBI said it forwarded to the Interpol the ED’s request for an issuance of a Red Corner Notice, warranting his arrest across the globe. On the ED’s request, India revoked Mallya’s passport in April.
Last month, the CBI registered a cheating case against Paramount Airways and its former promoter M Thiagarajan for alleged unauthorised sale of assets.