What is AgustaWestland chopper scam & how Sonia Gandhi's name got involved in it?

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In February 2010, the then Congress-led UPA government at the Centre signed a contract with the UK-based AgustaWestland to buy 12AW01 helicopters for the Indian Air Force (IAF) for a whopping Rs 3,600 crore. The aim of this deal was to procure helicopters to fly high-profile leaders like the president, prime minister and others.

[ED attaches assets of ex-IAF chief's family]

In 2013, the agreement was put on hold on by the Indian govement after Bruno Spagnolin, CEO of AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of Finmeccanica---the Italian parent company---were arrested on charges of paying bribe to bag the deal with the IAF. [Modi government slept over VVIP chopper scam, tried to help company: Antony]

 

chopper

The then defence minister AK Antony ordered a probe into the matter soon after.

In early 2014, the Italian court overlooking the scam and the investigation named former IAF chief SP Tyagi in the scam, saying the latter was bribed by Finmeccanica to finalise the deal with AgustaWestland. [Video: Ex-IAF chief denies charges]

In October 2014, reports said Tyagi was acquitted by the Italian court since the Indian officials did not indulge in corruption. [From archives: Lookout notice against ex-IAF chief in chopper deal]

However, on April 26, 2016, An Italian court said there was "reasonable belief that corruption took place" in the 2010 VVIP helicopter deal and former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi was involved in it.

How Tyagi's name got involved in the scam?

The IAF had asked the defence ministry to buy helicopters that coiuld fly in high-altitude areas like Siachen. After evaluation, it was found that the AW101 helicopters were not capable of flying at a height of 6,000 metres (over 19,000 feet) but could reach up to 4,572 metres (15,000 feet).

The alleged middleman in the deal, Guido Haschke, said even as the AW101 helicopters could not meet the requirements, the deal went through after he tweaked the contract with help of his Indian sources. AgustaWestkland allegedly paid a bribe of €30 million of which €20 million went through Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.

A CBI report said that prior to Tyagi's taking over as the IAF chief, the air force was strongly opposed to the idea of compromising with the altitude factor. But after Tyagi's entry, the IAF "conceded to reduce" the altitude requirements, making the way easier for AgustaWestland to re-enter into the picture.

Initial probe by the Italian authorities said Tyagi had personally met Haschke before and the bribe was paid via his cousins Julie, Sandeep and Dosca. Tyagi, however, denied these allegations.

In recent investigations made by the Milan Court of Appeals, Tyagi's name appeared more than once in its 225-page judgment.

How Sonia Gandhi came into the picture?

The Milan Court of Appeals, in its judgment, took note of talks between Haschke, Gerosa and Christian Michel who mentioned "Mrs Gandhi" as being the 'driving force behind the VIP' and her close aides like Ahmed Patel and Pranab Mukherjee.

In a letter written on March 15, 2008, Michel wrote to Peter Hulet, who was the then chief of India region sales and liasion for AgustaWestland, saying: "Dear Peter, since Mrs Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP, she will no longer fly with MI8 ... Mrs Gandhi and her closest advisers are the aim of the High Commissioner, senior adviser Prime Minister Manmohan Singh obviously the main figure, then there's Ahmed Patel Secretary."

Orsi and Spagnolin have been sentenced to four-and-half years and four years of imprisonment, respectively, earlier this month. The court has also asked the duo to pay $8.5 million---the sum which is deemed to have been paid in bribes.

A CBI probe into the scam is underway in India.

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