BJP and its leaders are beating their chest on AgustaWestland scam; but none of them dared to order the probe or lodge an FIR against Sonia Gandhi. The saffron party has failed — inspite of its government — taking action against Gandhis and Congress. They indulged themselves in mudsling but nothing constructive has come out of it. Moreover, fuming exchanges between Congress and BJP over Subramanian Swamy seeking to drag in Sonia Gandhi’s name stalled the Upper House twice. The Congress sought a discussion on the AgustaWestland helicoper deal in the Lok Sabha, saying allegations have been levelled against its leadership.
As soon as the question hour started in the House, Congress leader of the House Mallikarjun Kharge said all newspapers have published news item on the VVIP helicopter deal and allegations have been levelled against party leaders. The Congress has maintained that the UPA government had taken action once reports of wrongdoings and allegations of corrupt practices surfaced in 2013.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi also rejected allegations linking her and her party leaders in the AgustaWestland chopper deal bribes. Besides cancelling the deal, the UPA had blacklisted AgustaWestland and confiscated the guarantee money. However the NDA government, the party said, had now removed the Italian company from the blacklist. In September 2012, AgustaWestland and Northrop Grumman announced the signing of a comprehensive teaming agreement under which the companies will jointly bid for contracts to build the U.S. Air Force Combat Rescue helicopter and U.S. Navy’s new “Marine One” presidential helicopter.
In March 2013, AgustaWestland announced its Project Zero hybrid tiltrotor/fan-in-wing technology demonstrator. In January 2014, India cancelled the US$630 million deal with AgustaWestland for purchasing 12 AW 101 helicopters meant for use by VVIPs. Following this event, in June 2014 India recovered the entire sum of Rs. 1,818 crore which it had paid to the company. The decision to annul the 2010 deal, being probed by CBI for irregularities, came after a meeting between then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Defence Minister AK Antony in New Delhi. 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 US$60 million was paid as a bribe.
In early 2013, an Indian parliamentary investigation began into allegations of bribery and corruption involving several senior officials and helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland surrounding the purchase of a new fleet of helicopters. The scandal has been referred to as the Chopper scam, or Choppergate by elements of the media. Several politicians and military officials have been accused of accepting bribes from AgustaWestland in order to win the US$530 million Indian contract for the supply of 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters. These helicopters are intended to perform VVIP duties for the President of India and other important state officials. Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, was alleged by Italian prosecutors to have received kickbacks from the deal. A note dating back to 15 March 2008 presented in the Italian court also indicates that Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP chopper purchase. And it further asks middleman Peter Hulett to target key advisors to Sonia Gandhi and lists the names of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ahmed Patel, Pranab Mukherjee, M. Veerappa Moily, Oscar Fernandez, M. K. Narayanan and Vinay Singh. The note also contains the bribes to be paid out divided as, “AF” €6 Million, “BUR” €8.4 Million, “Pol” €6 Million and “AP” €3 Million.
On 25 March 2013, India’s Defence Minister A.K. Antony 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, Indian government has recovered a total amount of Rs. 2068 crore and has recovered the entire amount of around Rs.1620 (45% of total contract value Rs. 3600 crore) it had paid to AgustaWestland. However, it has to be noted that the Italian Court investigating the case, acquitted S.P. Tyagi of all charges in an October 2014 verdict. The Italian prosecution also shelved its case of graft charges against Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland. This has led to questions arising if there was a scam at all. The court cases in India are still running.
Controversy over the contract came into light on February 2013, with the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland’s parent company by Italian authorities. The following day then Defence Minister A.K. Antony ordered a probe into the contract. A Chandigarh based company, IDS Infotech was used for routing kickbacks to India. The role of Satish Bargodia (brother of ex-Union Minister Santosh Bargodia) who is also the director of the company is being investigated. In 2005 just few years before the scam, Pratap Agarwal appointed son of Satish Bargodia as it’s director. It is alleged that using the political connection of Satish, IDS a rather unknown firm managed to bag such a huge deal.
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