Former Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi, on Wednesday refuted allegations that he was paid bribes to swing a Rs 3,600 crore deal for procuring 12 choppers from Italian firm Finmeccanica to ferry VVIPS.
"I am innocent. These allegations are totally baseless and I am denying them categorically. The deal was signed in 2010 whereas I retired in 2007 itself," he said.
Asked if he had changed any specifications for the contract to favour Finmeccanica, Tyagi said, “The staff qualitative requirements for the VVIP choppers were frozen in 2003, much before I assumed the office of Chief of Air Staff, and the IAF did not change any requirements after that."
Asked about his relations with three alleged middlemen for the deal including one 'former IAF officer Captain Tyagi', the former air chief said he was his cousin but their relationship did not go beyond this.
News reports on Wednesday suggested that Italian investigators have alleged in a preliminary inquiry submitted in an Italian court that business conglomerate Finmeccanica bribed S P Tyagi when he was chief of the Indian Air Force to swing the controversial AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal in favour of the company.
After the arrest of Finmeccanica's head on Tuesday in Italy in connection with the controversial deal, the defence ministry ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the charges.
"I have been hit by a thunderstorm," Tyagi told reporters about allegations that the Italian company had bribed him to swing the chopper deal in its favour.
Another scam unfolded with the arrest of the head of a State-controlled Italian aerospace company that is suspected of paying bribes of about Rs 362 crore in India to get orders for helicopters to ferry Indian VVIPs, prompting the government to order a CBI probe.
The ministry of defence also decided to put on hold the receipt of the remaining nine of the 12 helicopters for which the Rs 3600 crore deal was struck in 2010.
"Giuseppe Orsi, the head of Italian defence and aerospace giant Finmeccanica, was arrested on Monday in relation to a probe into international corruption. He is suspected of involvement in the payment of bribes regarding the sale to the Indian government of 12 helicopters produced by Finmeccanica's subsidiary AgustaWestland," Italian news agency Ansa said.
"There is smoke," Tyagi said while favouring a probe into the deal.
"When I became the Air chief in 2004 and in 2007, I retired, during that period no changes were made.
"According to my information, nothing was done which raises a suspicion from my side. But it is true if there are so many reports, then there is something in it.
"I don't know what it is but all I can say is that it should be inquired. There should be an inquiry so that all the facts come out. I am not only ready for an inquiry but I want an inquiry," he said.
"There is a scandal. People must know about it," Tyagi said.
Asked about the alleged involvement of three of his relatives, he said, "The fact is they are related to me. But there are no business links (as alleged) with them....We were really not in touch when I was in service."
"Tender was issued during my tenure but the charge is that the company which got the tender, AugustaWestland, they may not have been able to compete if the requirements would not have been changed. For these matters only somebody will bribe me.
"So I want to tell you two-three things -- Air Headquarters cannot change requirements. It is not a general store, there is a system. The system is, Air Headquarter can recommend but cannot approve," the former air force chief said.
Maintaining that there were no changes between 2004 and 2007, he said, "If you remember in 2000, the defence minister was George Fernandes, he used to go to Siachen and other places. So it was thought that VIPS will go to Siachen. So till 18000 feet the plane should operate.
"If the prime minister accompanies them, the Special Protection Group will also go. His PS will also go. So what should be its weight and other technicalities? So I don't know about these things. But there was a talk about 18,000 feet. When in the year 2000 tender action was taken they got to know that nobody in the world builds a plane that operates at 18,000 feet only. In the entire world, a French plane was there which could operate at 18,000 ft," he said.
In 2003, the government said it was not proper. The SPG said cabin weight of the copter is low and they will not be able to stand in it, he said, adding that the SPG wanted to be involved in the selection process.
These changes were made in 2003 before he took over, Tyagi said.
"After that I know only this much, that the SPG and defence minister had a lot of correspondence on the kinds of fittings in the plane, for example the SPG wanted to install an armour plate but we said plane will not fly because it will be heavy. It will become a tank," he said.
Tyagi said there was no question of lobbying because there was competition.
"It was not a single company. We thought it was an expensive plane... Maybe it will not win the competition," he said.
The former air force chief said, "There is no doubt that there is a suspicion on me."
"There should be an inquiry and facts should come out in public. My relatives denied the allegations. They said we had business dealings with them but we have not seen the defence ministry," he said.