AugustaWestland case: CBI names Rajiv Saxena in second charge sheet
The Central Bureau of Investigation has filed a supplementary charge sheet in the ₹3,727 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case, naming nine Indian nationals including Rajiv Saxena; the former managing director of AgustaWestland, Giacomino Saponaro; and five companies that allegedly played a crucial role in facilitating the movement of kickbacks meant for politicians, bureaucrats and Indian Air Force officials, people familiar with the probe said.
The charge sheet, the second in the case – first was filed in September 2017 naming former IAF chief S P Tyagi and 10 others – doesn’t name any politician or government official. It also doesn’t name former defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, then Air Vice Marshal Jasbir Singh Panesar and three senior retired IAF officials, chief test pilot S A Kunte, Wing Commander Thomas Mathew and retired Group Captain N Santosh. The agency recently sought sanction from the defence ministry to prosecute former bureaucrats and IAF officials. The sanction is yet to be accorded.
“Investigation against beneficiaries has been kept pending for now but a supplementary charge sheet will soon be filed against politicians and government officers,” said one of the people familiar with the matter.
Among those arraigned as accused in the CBI charge sheet, filed on Friday, are Rajiv Saxena, a middleman who was deported to India from Dubai in January 2019 and was made an approver in the case by the Enforcement Directorate in April the same year. However, the anti-money laundering probe agency sought revocation of his approver status in November last year alleging that he has misled the investigators and is “not reliable”. The matter is still pending in courts. The Delhi high court had refused to revoke his approver status.
ED has accused Saxena of being a “hawala operator” who ran accommodation entry business in Dubai through shell companies. Accommodation entry is an aspect of money laundering where a sum of money is broken up and moved to several accounts over a period of time so as to make the transaction difficult to trace.
Apart from Saxena, the eight other Indians, who helped create shell companies, or assisted AgustaWestland in procuring documents related to the VVIP chopper contract, named by CBI are: SP Tyagi’s cousin Sandeep Tyagi, Praveen Bakshi, Pratap Krishan Aggarwal (ex-Managing Director of IDS Infotech Ltd), Narendra Kumar Jain, Rajesh Kumar Jain of Kolkata, Sunil Kothari, Deepak Goyal, KV Kunhikrishnan (former GM of Westland Support Services Ltd, New Delhi). Kunhikrishnan has been linked to British middleman Christian Michel, who helped him procure contract documents and and former managing director of AgustaWestland - Giacomino Saponaro.
CBI’s latest charge sheet establishes how a cash payment of ₹5 crore given to SP Tyagi’s cousin Sandeep Tyagi was brought to India through small companies in Mauritius and India and also through banking channels. It mentions details of discussions between European middlemen Guido Haschke, Carlo Gerosa and Christian Michel related to bribes to be paid to different persons. The three were already named as accused in CBI’s first chargesheet in September 2017.
The agency said that when Michel was procuring classified defence documents for the contract, he gave over ₹90 lakh to Kunhikrishnan for the same.
It is alleged that Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland allegedly paid Michel, who was extradited to India in December 2018 from Dubai, Euro 42 million (₹295 crore) to bribe politicians, bureaucrats and defence ministry personnel for swinging the deal for 12 VVIP choppers in favour of the company.
According to CBI’s investigation documents, which have been reviewed by HT, at a meeting held in Cascina Costa (Italy) in July 2006, it was proposed that Michel would work with Haschke and Gerosa in monitoring activities with regard to the acquisition of helicopters in India, keeping in view his knowledge of Indian military deals. “During this meeting, they negotiated a comprehensive fee equal to 7% of the supply contract amount to cover the expenses and fees of both of them,” said the second officer.
Michel signed 12 contracts through two of his firms with Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland, Westland Helicopters UK etc to legitimise the illicit commission on procurement of helicopters.
“Finmeccanica paid total Euro 42.27 million [₹295.00 crore approx] to the firms of Christian Michel as kickbacks/bribe without undertaking any work against the receipt of such amount,” said the second officer. Michel had prepared a note in which alleged bribes worth Euro 30 million meant for politicians and bureaucrats were mentioned. CBI pinned hopes on his interrogation, particularly to identify individuals who were referred to as “AP”, “Pol”, “Bur” and “AF” in the note.
The note used abbreviations of designations like “DCH”, “PDSR”, “DG Maintt” and “FTT” under the head “AF (air force)”. Under the head “BUR”, it had entries like “DS”, “JS Air”, “AFA Air”, “DG Acq”, “VC” and “Auditor Gen” and under “POL”, it had “AP”. The note had a separate entry “Fam”, believed to be S P Tyagi’s family – his three cousins Sanjeev, Rajiv and Sandeep Tyagi. It mentioned that Euro 6 million were for “AF” (Air Force), 8.4 million for “BUR” (bureaucrats), 3 million for “AP” and 15-16 million for “Fam”.
In its first charge-sheet, CBI said it had established the “money trail” of Euro 62 million (around 415 crore) out of suspected 67 million (Rs 452 crore) bribe paid to Indians through middlemen.
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 was cancelled in January 2014.
Michel’s lawyer Aljo Joseph said: “There is no evidence against my client. The whole case is based on false allegations”. Saxena’s lawyer R K Handoo said the allegations are “baseless”. Legal representatives of others named in charge sheet could not immediately be reached by HT.