A European middleman allegedly tipped off AgustaWestland on October 20, 2003 about a crucial specification change a month before the then NDA government officially recommended the alterations that benefitted the controversial defence firm.
Italian court documents being examined by the CBI allegedly show middleman Guido Haschke allegedly alerted AgustaWestland officials about the possibility of the government reducing the mandatory flying altitude — known as the service ceiling — of VVIP choppers from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres.
The alleged communication took place a month before a meeting chaired by then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s principal secretary Brajesh Mishra on November 19, 2003.
The revelation might add more fuel to an ongoing battle between the government and Congress over the controversial 2010 deal as the documents indicate middlemen had access to the corridors of power before the Congress-led UPA administration took over.
Haschke allegedly got the information from cousins of former air force chief SP Tyagi, who was then a senior officer.
The Central Bureau of Investigation and the enforcement directorate are probing Tyagi for allegedly accepting bribes via his cousins to approve the tweaking of the service ceiling, which he did on March 14, 2005. All the accused have denied allegations.
“I did say the Tyagi family gave me the preliminary information that the operational requirement would be lowered…in the tender document, it would be lowered,” Haschke allegedly told Italian prosecutors.
Asked if he transmitted the information to AgustaWestland, Haschke reportedly said, “Well, yes, of course.”
A subsidiary of Italian defence major Finmeccanica, the British firm AgustaWestland allegedly paid around `375 crores as bribe to bag a deal for supplying 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force.
The charges compelled the then UPA government to scrap the Rs 3727 crore agreement in 2014.
“All relevant information will be examined and verified. Tyagi and his three cousins will be asked about them,” said the source. Haschke is wanted by the CBI an ED.
The revelation comes amid the BJP’s offensive against top Congress leaders, including party chief Sonia Gandhi with allegations that they were paid off to benefit AgustaWestland.
One of the charges leveled by the BJP is that the helicopter service ceiling was changed to benefit the British firm.
This is significant as AgustaWestland was disqualified in 2002 when India conducted the first round of tendering to select an ideal VVIP chopper. The firm’s chopper could not met the 6, 000 m service ceiling benchmark as its EH -101 could fly up to only 4,572 m.
This version of events is according to Haschke’s alleged admissions contained in an April 7 order of the Italy’s Milan appeals’ court – an equivalent of a high court in India.
The court convicted two former senior AgustaWestland -Finmeccanica officials — Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini —for corruption in the deal. According to
Haschke’s alleged admissions, he met Orsi and Giorgio Zappa, who is also alleged to have met Tyagi.
In the November 2003 meeting, Mishra observed that his main concern was that the framing of the mandatory requirements led to effectively “a single vendor situation”, said a 2013 defence ministry statement.
It was also noted that the PM and President rarely made visits to places involving flying at an altitude beyond 4,500 meters, according to the ministry document.
The court order said that Haschke showed he was “aware of these aspects”, referring to the 2003 developments.
Three years after Haschke’s alleged leak, the then UPA government issued in September 2006 a global Request For Proposal (RFP) inviting global tenders for supply of VVIP choppers with a mandatory service ceiling of 4,500m.