What is AgustaWestland scam? All you need to know about the Rs 3,600-crore deal

FPJ Web Desk

British national Christian Michel James, the middleman wanted in Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case, was extradited to India on Tuesday night from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He was taken straight to the CBI headquarters from the airport.

Michel, who is presently at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters, is likely to be produced before a competent court on Wednesday. Furthermore, the CBI is likely to ask the court for extended custody of Michel for the purpose of investigation.

So what is AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case?

  • It was August of 1999 when the IAF felt the requirement of new helicopters for VVIPs.
  • Its fleet of Mi-8 VIP helicopters was completing their total technical life, not being able to fly at nights and at high altitudes (places beyond 2000 metres).
  • So, with the key requirement of flying high, the IAF proposed the deal to buy new choppers to the government for critical areas like Tiger Hill and Siachen.
  • In February 2010, the ruling UPA government signed a contract to purchase 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters for Indian Air Force for Rs 3,600-crore, to carry the president, PM and other VVIPs.
  • In February 2013, the government decided to put on hold the deal following the arrest of chairman of Finmeccanica Giuseppe Orsi and CEO of Agusta Westland Bruno Spagnolini on charges that they bribed middlemen to secure the deal with IAF.
  • The then defence minister, A K Antony immediately put the deal on hold and ordered a probe to CBI. AgustaWestland had already delivered three of the choppers by then. Proceeding the case in Italy, a court investigating the scam said that the former IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal (Retd.) SP Tyagi was bribed by Finmeccanica to seal the deal with its AgustaWestland.
  • In 2014, the Congress-led UPA government cancelled the VVIP chopper deal with AgustaWestland on grounds that the integrity pact was violated. The government has recovered most of the money paid to the Italian company for the contract.
  • India cancelled the Rs 3,600 crore deal with AgustaWestland in January 2014. The government cancelled the contract “on grounds of breach of the Pre-contract Integrity Pact and the agreement by AWIL (AgustaWestland International Ltd)”. The contract was frozen in February 2013 after allegations surfaced that Rs 3,600 crore was paid as a bribe.
  • In this big defence kickback controversy, the role of then PM Manmohan Singh, former Defence Minister AK Antony, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former IAF chief SP Tyagi was put to question.
  • On 8 April 2016, the Milan Court of Appeal, in a 225-page judgement, overturned a lower court verdict and convicted helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland’s executive Giuseppe Orsi to four years’ imprisonment for paying a €30 million bribe to Indian politicians, bureaucrats, and Indian Air Force officials.
  • On 9 December 2016, the CBI arrested former Indian Air Force Chief S.P. Tyagi along with his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi and lawyer Gautam Khaitan. In September 2017, the CBI filed a formal charge sheet against S.P. Tyagi and nine others.
  • The Italian court, investigating the case in October 2014, acquitted ex-IAF Chief S.P. Tyagi of all corruption charges. On 8 January 2018, the Milan Third Court of Appeals finally cleared the defendants and dismissed all charges, citing lack of sufficient evidence to support the allegations

(Inputs from Agencies)