Guido Ralph Hashkhe, the key arms dealer who helped bribe the family of former air chief SP Tyagi in the Rs. 3760 crore VVIP chopper deal had travelled with former Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi to India in 2005, the middleman has told investigators.
Hashkhe told investigators he was a part of Ciampi's official entourage visiting India from February 12-16, 2005, according to transcripts detailed by Italian prosecutors in a probe report submitted before a court.
HT could not independently verify the assertion. But the assertion, if true, points afresh to the key role foreign governments are playing in facilitating defence contracts, often for private companies, with India. Finmeccanica, the Italian arms giant that won the VVIP chopper deal for its subsidiary AgustaWestland, is 70% private, and 30% state-owned.
"I saw (Giorgio) Zappa for the first time on the occasion of the visit of President Ciampi in India in February 2005," Hashkhe told prosecutors. "I point out that I was a member of the Italian delegation in India. In the course of this meeting, I was presented (officially, as a delegation member)."
Over the past several years, visits by heads of state or government of major countries to India have invariably involved discussions on massive arms deals, a review of such visits shows.
Just on Thursday, French President Francois Hollande concluded negotiations for co-developing a short-range air defence system worth Rs. 30,000 crore, and assured that there would be no middlemen involved in the Rs. 64,560 crore deal to supply 126 Rafale fighter jets to India.
Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy pitched hard for the jet deal - India's single largest defence contract - during both his official visits to India in 2008 and in 2010.
When French firm Dassault Aviation won the contract finally last year, to supply the Rafale fighter planes, beating the Typhoon (partly made in Britain), UK Prime Minister David Cameron asked India to "reconsider" the deal.
In December 2012, Russia and India signed a Rs. 25,400 crore deal for fighter jets and helicopters, during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit.