Former IAF chief SP Tyagi’s visit to Italy twice after his retirement is under the scanner of the CBI, which is probing bribery charges in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal.
Tyagi has told interrogators that he travelled to Florence, Milan and Venice in Italy in 2008 and 2009, after his retirement in 2007, informed sources said.
The former Air Chief Marshal was questioned on Monday by the Central Bureau of Investigation on the AgustaWestland deal in which kickbacks were allegedly paid to Indian officials and politicians.
CBI investigators told IANS on the condition of anonymity that they were yet to find out the reason for Tyagi’s visit to the three Italian cities but they feel it must have been linked to the AugustaWestland deal.
The sources said they were also trying to find out if Tyagi met during those trips Augusta middlemen Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa -- whom he met around seven times between 2004 and 2007 in India.
Tyagi has been accused in Italy and India of helping AgustaWestland win the chopper contract by reducing the flying ceiling of the helicopter from 6,000 metre to 4,500 metre (15,000 feet).
Tyagi maintains the decision was reportedly taken in consultation with officials of the Special Protection Group (SPG) and the Prime Minister’s Office. Twelve helicopters were to be bought by India.
The CBI says the reduction of the service ceiling, which is the maximum height at which a helicopter can perform normally, allowed the UK-based firm to get into the fray. Otherwise its helicopters were not even qualified for submission of bids.
The chopper deal resurfaced after an Italian court last month referred to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh among others in connection with the chopper deal but gave no details of any wrongdoing by the two leaders.
The CBI, which has received a copy of the Milan court order, has now prepared a fresh set of questions for Tyagi. Tyagi has denied the bribery allegations.
Tyagi was questioned in 2013 too but Monday’s session was the first after the Italian court order.
The sources told IANS that it was in 2004 that a representative of Agusta’s Italy-based parent company Finmeccanica first met Tyagi, who was then the Indian Air Force vice chief.
In January 2005, months after the government announced that Tyagi was next in line to be the IAF chief, Haschke and Gerosa met him again.
Tyagi also allegedly met them the next month at an air show in Bengaluru, where Agusta had put up a stall, the sources said.
In 2006, just after he became the air chief, Tyagi allegedly met the two middlemen at a cousin’s office and home in Delhi.
In one of the other three alleged meetings, the sources said, Tyagi as the air chief changed the specifications for the choppers.
The Italian court accuses the former air chief of corruption at the instance of his cousins -- Sanjeev Tyagi, Rajeev Tyagi and Sandeep Tyagi. They too will be summoned by the CBI for questioning.
The CBI has told the court that the three Tyagis were associated with Haschke and Gerosa for a long time after they entered into a consultancy with a Tunisia-based company of the two middlemen in 2004.
In January 2013, India cancelled the chopper deal and the CBI was told to investigate the bribery allegations.
Two months later, the CBI registered a FIR against the former IAF chief along with 13 others including his cousins and the European middlemen.
Firms Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland, IDS Infotech Ltd (India) and Aeromatrix India were also booked in the case.