Former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Thursday in connection with the AgustaWestland chopper deal, a day after he was summoned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the same case.
Tyagi has been questioned several times by the CBI in its separate corruption probe since March 2013 but has been summoned by the ED for the first time after it registered a case under Prevention of Money Laundering Act in July 2014.
AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defence giant Finmeccanica, allegedly approached Tyagi through three of his cousins during his stint as air chief in 2005-2007. They are accused of taking bribe from the company’s European middlemen, including Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, to help change key technical requirements enabling the firm to bag the Indian deal in 2010.
The deal, which was cancelled in January 2014 by the UPA-2 government, involved the supply of 12 VVIP AW-101 helicopters for a price of Rs 3,727 crore.
The Tyagis, who were named by the CBI and ED in their complaints in the case, deny the allegations.
Tyagi’s questioning comes after a recent judgement of a Milan court which had sentenced Finmeccanica’s former chief Giuseppe Orsi and the former CEO of the firm Bruno Spagnolini on corruption charges in the sale of the choppers. Tyagi’s name was mentioned several times in the judgement.
Here are five issues that Tyagi needs to explain to ED interrogators:
1. ED has alleged a key mandatory operational requirement, a service ceiling of 6,000 metres, which is the optimum height at which a chopper can fly, was reduced to 4,500 metres. This was allegedly done to help AgustaWestland escape disqualification as its AW-101’s capacity was a mere 4,572 m. It was earlier disqualified in 2002 by the air force on this ground.
The air force agreed to reduce the required service ceiling at a meeting of several stakeholders on March 7, 2005. The air force’s decision was in contrast to its earlier consistent stand. Tyagi approved the service ceiling’s reduction on March 14, 2005. He also approved the choppers’ mandatory cabin height at 1.8 m and the consideration of a third engine that the accused firm solely had. He will have to explain what was the alleged quid pro quo for his favours to the company.
2) Tyagi will have to tell the ED about his meeting with AgustaWestland’s then chief operating officer Giorgio Zappa on February 15, 2005, in Delhi as shown in the records of an official visitors’ register. The meeting occurred a month before he approved the service ceiling’s reduction. The agency suspects Zappa had allegedly “made the offer” to pay him for favours in that meeting.
It will ask Tyagi if he allegedly discussed aspects related to the technical specifications for the deal’s tender in his meeting with Zappa, which was attended by a few of his “staff” officers. Zappa told Italian investigators that Tyagi allegedly told him that the service ceiling needed to be relaxed to make the selection process more inclusive.
3) ED suspects AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica officials Saponaro and Maggioli hosted and paid for Tyagi’s trip to Milan after his retirement in March 2007. Tyagi and his wife were taken to Milan’s globally-acclaimed Teatro Alla Scala Opera and the Grand Hotel de Milan for dinner, which was attended by a then top AW official Bruno Spagnolini. The trip happened when India was still evaluating the bids of the Anglo-Italian firm and the American Sikorsky.
4) Tyagi will have to explain if there was any alleged link to his acceptance of the service ceiling’s reduction in March 2005 to payments worth €3.26 lakh to his cousins as consultancy charges by a Tunisian firm, Gordian Services, Sarl. The payments were made between May 2004 and February 2005 by the Tunisian firm controlled by Haschke and Gerosa.
The payments, in fact, began barely a month after the air force had decided in April 2004 that the chopper was not suited for ferrying VVIPs including the President and the Prime Minister. The Tyagi brothers have denied all charges saying they received money from Haschke as consultancy charges.
5) Tyagi will be asked if he allegedly met AgustaWestland’s three alleged European middlemen, especially Haschke, along with his cousins several times in Delhi when the tender process was on and revealed privileged information. He allegedly met Haschke six-seven times.