Former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi was wrong when he said the controversial decisions in Choppergate were taken during the NDA regime and before his tenure, suggest new revelations.
A day after Tyagi claimed that purchase conditions of 12 AgustaWestland VVIP helicopters were modified long before he became the air chief, the defence ministry in a press statement on Thursday said the changes in the Rs. 3,760-crore tender were made when Tyagi was in the hot seat in 2005-06. Pranab Mukherjee was then the defence minister in the UPA government.
Italian investigators have alleged that Finmeccanica had bribed Tyagi to change the tender requirements to help the firm secure the contract, a charge denied by the former air chief. Tyagi was air chief from December 31, 2004, to March 31, 2007.
The defence ministry said tender requirements for the helicopters were "deliberated at length" between March 2005 and September 2006 before changes were made, a development that support the Italian investigators’ claims.
Tender requirements were discussed by the air force, prime minister’s office (PMO), Special Protection Group, defence ministry and the national security adviser.
Tyagi had triggered a major political firestorm on Wednesday, claiming that tender requirements were modified during the NDA regime at the behest of the Vajpayee PMO in 2003.
"The changes, made in 2003, may have been finalised during my tenure. But those changes were implemented as it is, except for minor changes in onboard fitments. The helicopter remained the same," Tyagi had said.
A global tender for buying the VVIP helicopters was floated on September 27, 2006, during Tyagi's tenure. Tyagi's cousins - Julie, Dosca and Sandeep - allegedly took bribes to influence the deal signed in February 2010.
Tyagi said he was not in talking terms with his cousins between 1999 and 2006. He said they had patched up towards the end of 2006, a decision he now regrets.
India has enough elbow room to cancel the contract.
The ministry said the contract with AgustaWestland included a clause that would allow India to cancel the deal and recover all payments along with interest in case the use of "undue influence" was established. India has so far received three helicopters and paid the Italian firm more than Rs 1,300 crore.
India could also invoke the integrity pact to scrap the deal if the CBI probe, ordered by defence minister AK Antony on Tuesday, establishes corrupt practices. The pact is valid till February 2015 under the contract. Antony on Thursday shot off a letter to AgustaWestland asking the firm to clarify on the alleged kickbacks.