9 Questions You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask about AgustaWestland

A VVIP Helicopter undergoing trials. Credit: Wikimedia/Brehmemohan

The AgustaWestland case is in the news once again after CBI arrested the former Air Force Chief, SP Tyagi by the CBI. The Indian national parliamentary investigation, which began in 2013, has led to a high-profile arrest in the INR 3600 crore scandal. Bayside Journal brings to you nine question you were too embarrassed to ask about this case.

1. What is the AgustaWestland case?

Also known as Chopper scam or Choppergate, some Indian politicians and military officials have allegedly accepted bribes and kickbacks from AgustaWestland in order to win the ₹36 billion (US$530 million) Indian contract for the supply of 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters.

2. When was the deal struck?

The deal was struck on February 2010 for the Communication Squadron of Indian Air Force to carry the President, Prime Minister and other VVIPs. India had paid a total of Rs 3,600 crore to AgustaWestland, a British subsidiary of Finmeccanica. The deal was cancelled in 2013.

3.  Who is SP Tyagi?

Air Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi, RETD, IAF was the air force chief from December 31, 2005 and retired in 2007 after 44 years of service. He is believed to have participated in the Indo-pak wars in 1965 and 1971.

S.P. Tyagi has been acquitted by the Italian court as it ruled that there is no evidence to suggest that he had accepted bribes and also there is no evidence that kickbacks in the infamous chopper-case.

4. What is his alleged role in the scam?

He is accused of reducing the height of the VVIP helicopters so that AgustaWestland could be included and finally win the now terminated contract. He is also accused of “illegal gratification for exercising influence through corrupt and or illegal means,” said the CBI. The CBI is looking into his assets and investments to establish a money trail linking him to the kickbacks received.

5. Who else has been arrested?

A Delhi-based lawyer Gautam Khaitan and Sanjeev “Julie” Tyagi ( a distant relative of S.P Tyagi) have also been arrested in connection with the scam.

6. Who else is involved?

In an FIR lodged in March 2013 by the CBI, the CEO of Aeromatrix, Praveen Bakshi CEO, chairman of IDS Infotech Ltd (India) Satish Bagrodia and its MD Pratak K Aggarwal have been named. Former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi and former AgustaWestland head Bruno Spagnolini as well as the companies AgustaWestland, AeroMatrix India IDS Infotech Ltd (India) have also been named.

7. What are the roles of the middlemen?

Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa are the middlemen allegedly involved in the deal. According to this Indian Express report, the alleged payments of bribes began in 2004, six years before the chopper deal and seven months before Tyagi was appointed Air Chief Marshal.

According to the ED, AgustaWestland gave 70 million euros to companies floated by Haschke and Gerosa and the another led by Christian Michel, a British businessman. 30 percent would be utilised for actual engineering work, the rest would be paid as bribes.

The accused set up various companies to launder the money across borders. Along with Gautam Khaitan, the accused set up a company Aeromatrix after IDS India (not connected with the middlemen) sensed something fishy with how the work was being done. Aeromatrix reportedly bought the engineering department of IDS India, claimed the ED.

Aeromatrix, along with IDS Tunisia (a company floated by the middlemen) would inflate bills they received from engineering services rendered to AgustaWestland and the difference was paid in bribes, said the ED.

8. How has the Indian Government reacted?

On 25 March 2013, India’s then Defence Minister A.K. Antony confirmed allegations of corruption in the deal and ordered an ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The CBI then lodged an FIR. Arms dealer and alleged middleman Abhishek Verma and his wife were named as suspects in the scandal and sent to jail. He is now out on bail.

In September 2015, a special CBI court issued an open non-bailable warrant (NBW) against Christian Michel who recently claimed never to have met S.P Tyagi but has met Sanjiv Tyagi. On December 2, a Delhi court issued a fresh non-bailable warrant against Michel.

The CBI and the ED have sent letters rogatory (where a court asks a court of another country for information and evidence)  to eight countries to probe the money laundering.

The Indian government has recovered a total amount of Rs 2,068 crore of the Rs 3600 paid as of June 2014.

9. Have the accused been prosecuted by an international court?

On 8 April 2016, the Milan Court of Appeal sentenced Giuseppe Orsi to four years imprisonment. Bruno Spagnolini was handed a four-year jail term. The court ordered them to pay 7.5 million euros ($8.5 million). They were both found guilty for false accounting and corruption over the sale of 12 VVIP helicopters to India.