AgustaWestland case: 9 years on, money trail back in the spotlight
It is alleged that kickbacks worth euros 67 million ( ₹552 crore according to latest forex rates) were to be paid by AgustaWestland through two sets of middlemen – one led by Guido Haschke and another by Christian Michel
Nine years and three charge sheets later, the Central Bureau of Investigation continued to follow the money trail into the ₹3,727 crore AgustaWestland chopper deal, with a specific focus on politicians and government officials who benefitted, investigators said.
The central agency last month filed a supplementary charge sheet naming former defence secretary, Shashi Kant Sharma and four Indian Air Force (IAF) officers for allegedly favouring the Anglo-Italian firm in the controversial contract in 2010. The first two charge sheets were filed in September 2017 – it named former IAF chief SP Tyagi, his cousins and middleman Christian Michel James among others -- and September 2020 ( against middleman Rajiv Saxena and companies that facilitated the movement of kickbacks ).
One of the investigators, who asked not to be named said: “Our probe will now focus on the money trail to beneficiaries in the government, as suggested in the alleged bribe note prepared by Michel”.
Asked why CBI has taken nine years to find the actual beneficiaries of the bribes – the case was registered in March 2013, this officer said, “We have already provided details of transfers through companies in our first two charge sheets. A lot of bribes were allegedly paid in cash, which takes time to corroborate.”
It is alleged that kickbacks worth euros 67 million ( ₹552 crore according to latest forex rates) were to be paid by AgustaWestland through two sets of middlemen – one led by Guido Haschke and another by Christian Michel, who is currently lodged in Tihar jail after his extradition from the UAE in December 2018.
Michel signed two agreements with AgustaWestland, one for euros 42 million (which he later reduced to 30 million), and second agreement for Euro 28 million, with the “family” to be “honored in full”, according to CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) case documents. The family being referred to is believed to be former IAF chief SP Tyagi and his cousins.
CBI, in its first charge sheet, has already mentioned details of bribes worth euros 62 million, which was paid through a circuitous route of companies as well as cash.
According to the note, allegedly written by Michel sometime in 2008 at his London office, 30 million euros were to be distributed among Indian bureaucrats, politicians, and air force officers. The note used abbreviations of designations under the heads “AF” (which, investigators allege, meant air force), “BUR” (bureaucrats, according to sleuths), “POL” (politicians) and “Fam” (believed to be SP Tyagi’s family). The note mentioned that 6 million euros were for “AF”, 8.4 million euros for “BUR”, 3 million euros for “Pol” and 15-16 million euros for “Fam”. Several of the abbreviations under the header were revealed by Guido Haschke to Italian investigators, according to court documents.
CBI claimed in its first charge sheet (HT has seen a copy) that, in 2004, officials at Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Special Protection Group (SPG) and air force and ministry of defence, agreed to change the mandatory service ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 meters to 4,500. This, it alleged, ultimately benefitted Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland.
The irregularities in the award of the contract to AgustaWestland led to an estimated loss of Euro 398.21 million (around ₹2,666 crore) to the government in the Euro 556.262 million ( ₹3726.9 crore) contract according to CBI.
The contract – alleged violations and kickbacks in the deal became one of the biggest controversies during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime -- for supplying 12 VVIP choppers was given to Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland in February 2010. The deal was eventually scrapped in 2014.