The CBI was examining former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi on Monday in connection with alleged corruption in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal. Tyagi arrived at the CBI headquarters at 10am for questioning.
Naming former air chief SP Tyagi among 15 suspects, the CBI had in 2013 formally launched a probe into the VVIP helicopter deal.
The agency also named Tyagi’s three cousins, three alleged middlemen and four companies among others in the probe into allegations of kickbacks in securing the 12 luxury chopper deal with England-based AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defence giant Finmeccanica.
Some middlemen influenced the deal in favour of AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica paid commission worth several millions of euros to the middlemen, the CBI alleged.
Tyagi is the second former services chief to face a CBI probe. Former naval chief admiral Sushil Kumar was named in a case involving alleged kickbacks in the purchase of Barak missiles in early 2000. The probe is pending.
Middlemen and family connections – AgustaWestland representatives stopped at nothing to reach Tyagi and swing the chopper deal in the company’s favour, documents filed by Italian prosecutors in the case in 2013 had said.
The investigation report quoted key middleman asserting that he met Tyagi “6/7 times”, which included meetings at the offices of the former air chief’s cousins and at the Bangalore airshow when Tyagi was still in office.
This contradicted Tyagi’s claim that he met a middleman just once -- and that too after he retired.
Tyagi’s cousins – Julie, Dosca and Sandeep – were identified by the Italian prosecutors as the key go-betweens who helped Finmeccanica win the contract to supply 12 helicopters to the Indian Air Force. AgustaWestland is a unit of defence group Finmeccanica.
“The money was put in the hands of Julie in cash during frequent trips to India,” a middleman identified by the prosecutors only as ADR was quoted as saying.
The “relationship” between the Tyagis and the go-betweens used by AgustaWestland started in 2001, when Carlo Gerosa – one of the middlemen – met Julie at a wedding in Lugano, Italy. It was in 2000-2001 that the IAF talked about the need for the VVIP choppers.
Between 2005 and 2007, the middlemen met Tyagi at least six times: twice at the offices of his cousins, and at least once at the Bangalore airshow which is held every two years. “He was still in uniform and came to visit the Finmeccanica booth,” ADR is quoted as saying.
“I have met Carlo in my cousins’ place but when you say you have contact with him, then the answer is no. What connection could I have with him? I want to tell you that the whole process started after I retired... the entire process of evaluation, trials, contracts took place in 2010,” Tyagi had said after the charges against him.
Asked if he had changed any specifications for the contract to favour Finmeccanica, Tyagi said the “staff qualitative requirements for the VVIP choppers were frozen in 2003, much before I assumed the office of Chief of Air Staff, and the IAF did not change any requirements after that.”
Asked about his relations with three alleged middlemen for the deal including one ‘former IAF officer Captain Tyagi’, the former Chief said he was his cousin but their relationship did not go beyond this.
Asked about the alleged involvement of three of his relatives, he said, “The fact is they are related to me. But there are no business links (as alleged) with them....We were really not in touch when I was in service”.
A day after Tyagi claimed that the purchase conditions of 12 VVIP helicopters were modified long before he became the air chief, the defence ministry said in a press statement that the changes in the Rs 3,600-crore tender were made when Tyagi was in the hot seat in 2005-’06. Tyagi was air chief from December 31, 2004, to March 31, 2007.