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    EditorialAgustaWestland deal shamed us

    AgustaWestland deal shamed us

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    AgustaWestland deal shamed us

    The arrest of former Air Force chief S P Tyagi by the CBI on Friday in the Agusta-Westland Helicopter deal has brought in enormous embarrassment not only to armed forces enjoying respect and having record of probity and professionalism but for the entire nation which has been re-emerging with its new image.

    The alleged irregularities in the procurement of helicopters for VVIPs during the erstwhile UPA regime at the Centre has shocked countrymen not because of its occurrence but because it related to the of the country.  While it is premature to blame such a high-ranking Forces officer of such shocking wrongdoing, the truth needs to come out to set the record straight. There were initial claims that some journalists were also under a cloud. Along with Air Chief Marshal Tyagi (now retired), his cousin Sanjeev and a lawyer from Chandigarh, Deepak Khaitan, were arrested too in the Rs 450 crore bribery case. The three were accused of taking kickbacks in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal. While the cases were registered in 2013 when the scam first surfaced, the arrests have been made now and the CBI claims it has a watertight case. It was alleged in the chargesheet that the former Chief of Air Staff entered into criminal conspiracy with other accused persons and in 2005, conceded to change IAFs consistent stand that the service ceiling of VVIP helicopters be 6000 meters and reduced the same to 4500 meters. Such a change in operational requirements made the private company based in the UK (AgustaWestland) eligible to participate in the process for competing in 's acquisition of VVIP helicopters. It was revealed during investigation that such undue favours were allegedly shown to the company by accepting illegal gratification from the accused vendors through middlemen/relatives including the then Air Force chief's cousin and an advocate who accepted the illegal gratification for exercising influence through illegal means, or using personal influence over the concerned public servants. Rejecting the allegations, Air Chief Marshal Tyagi had said the change of specifications, which brought AgustaWestland into contention, was a collective decision in which senior officers of Indian Air Force, SPG and other departments were involved. The case against the errant company was being simultaneously pursued in an Italian court in Milan where on April 8 this year a court of appeal overturned a lower court verdict and convicted the company's executive Giuseppe Orsi to four years' imprisonment for paying a 30 million Euro bribe to Indian politicians, bureaucrats and Indian Air Force officials. Significantly, on March 25,2013, the then Defence Minister A K Antony had confirmed corruption allegations by stating : “Yes, corruption has taken place in the helicopter deal and bribes have been taken. The CBI is pursuing the case very vigorously.”  As of June 2014, the Indian government had recovered a total amount of Rs 2,068 crore and had recovered around Rs 1,620 crore (45% of the total contract value of Rs 3,600 crore) it had paid to AgustaWestland. With that background it is odd that the Congress party is now crying ‘wolf' over the arrests. The party has questioned why BJP was quiet all this while considering that for 30 months since it came to power if it had all the evidence? The Congress has claimed that the BJP is flustered with the demonetisation backlash and this is just a divisionary tactic. The BJP, meanwhile, said Congress has always been defensive. A BJP leader said that CBI is finally doing what it is supposed to do and that rattles the Congress. There is an element of truth in this which the Congress can contest only at peril to its credibility which in any case was severely compromised by the series of scams that occurred during the time when the Manmohan Singh government was in the saddle.

    When the Italian trial was on, a note presented in the Italian court, sent by middleman Christian Michel, had asked Peter Hulett, an AgustaWestland employee, to target key advisers to Sonia Gandhi and listed their names. If some of them were recipients of kickbacks in the deal as was being alleged by the prosecution, it is a serious matter and needs to be investigated threadbare. The Milan court had taken note of conversations between the three middlemen — Carlos Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guildo Haschke — who mention a ‘Mrs Gandhi' as being the driving force behind the deal. After allegations surfaced that Rs 3,600 crore was paid as a bribe, the Indian government had cancelled the deal in February 2013. Clearly, this is no ordinary case. Agreeing with the Congress party that the Modi government should have acted swiftly on it and not taken three years to get to this stage, there is no denying that the process needs to be taken to its logical conclusion. Those who are innocent ought to be cleared speedily while those who are found guilty of accepting bribes must be unmasked and deterrent action taken against them regardless of their political clout and standing.

     

    Northlines
    Northlines
    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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