The CBI on Monday questioned former air force chief SP Tyagi over allegations that AgustaWestland bribed him to change technical requirements, which helped the British company bag an Indian contract to supply 12 helicopters in 2010.
The agency also asked Tyagi why he went on a post-retirement trip to Italy and who funded it.
It has been alleged that the air force on his watch agreed at a March 2005 meeting to reduce a key mandatory requirement for the VVIP helicopters — a service ceiling of 6,000 metres, the optimum height at which a chopper can fly. It was reduced to 4,500 metres.
The tweak helped AgustaWestland, the British arm of Italian defence giant Finmeccanica, to “re-enter the fray”, as one investigator put it. The company’s chopper was disqualified in 2002 by the air force as the aircraft could not fly above 4,500 metres.
The CBI sought to verify any AgustaWestland or Finmeccanica links with Tyagi’s Italy trip in 2008-9. Officials of both companies were accused of bribery in the CBI’s March 2013 first information report.
AgustaWestland allegedly paid Rs 360 crore as bribe to Indian agents to secure a Rs 3,727-crore contract to supply a dozen choppers for VVIPs.
The previous UPA government scrapped the deal over charges of kickbacks but the controversy resurfaced this April after an Italian court found two company executives guilty of corruption. Since then, the ruling BJP and opposition Congress have been trading charges.
Tyagi, who was questioned at the CBI headquarters for more than 10 hours, was not forthcoming about certain queries, an official said. The questions could be repeated again on Tuesday.
The former air chief dubbed the questions about the alleged kickbacks as “inhuman”.
Tyagi was examined twice in 2013 by the CBI and interrogated again after the Italian court’s order this April.
A source said the air force sent a note to the defence secretary in January 2004, saying a service ceiling of 6,000 metres was required because VVIPs travel to high-altitude places, such as the Siachen glacier. Again in November 2004, the air force reiterated its stand.
Later, a fresh comparative test was introduced on how a chopper will cope with a non-functioning engine. For AgustaWestland, with its three engines, this test was a gift.
Also, an alleged tweaking of a technical specification related to a cabin height of 1.8 metres worked in the company’s favour.
Tyagi was asked if AgustaWestland approached him via his three cousins, who in turn had prior “business relations with the UK firm’s two European middlemen, Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke who were named in the CBI FIR”, a source said.
His cousins allegedly received 326,000 euros as consultancy fees from a Tunisian firm controlled by Haschke and Gerosa in May 2004 and February 2005. The payments were reportedly made a month after the air force decided that the chopper was not suited for VVIPs.
Tyagi allegedly met Haschke about seven times prior to the deal.