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Chopper deal: Ex-IAF chief Tyagi, others sent to CBI custody

Last updated on: December 10, 2016 19:39 IST

A Delhi court on Saturday sent former Air Force Chief S P Tyagi, arrested in Rs 450 crore Agusta Westland bribery case in procurement of 12 VVIP helicopters, to police custody for four days after the CBI said he was needed to be quizzed to unearth a "very large conspiracy having international ramifications".

His cousin Sanjeev Tyagi alias Julie and advocate Gautam Khaitan, also accused in the procurement of VVIP choppers from the UK-based company during UPA-2 regime, were also sent to police custody till December 14.

Metropolitan Magistrate Sujit Saurabh sent them to CBI custody saying their custodial interrogation was required for a "fair probe" in the case.

During the proceedings, CBI sought 10 days' custody saying it was a "very large conspiracy having international ramifications".

However, the counsel appearing for the accused, opposed CBI's plea saying FIR in the case was registered over three years ago and there was no fresh ground for the arrests now.

Senior advocate N Hariharan, who appeared for the former IAF chief, claimed that the decision to procure 12 VVIP choppers from AgustaWestland was a "collective" one and the Prime Minister Office was also a part of it.

"It was a collective decision and not his (Tyagi's) individual one. It was a collective decision of which PMO was also a part," he told the court.

The CBI alleged that Khaitan was the "brain" behind how the bribe money reached India and several companies through which the money travelled came into existence.

While seeking their custodial interrogation, the agency said the accused were required to be confronted and their assistance was needed to collect evidence and details of the bribe amount paid by AgustaWestland through different back channels abroad.

It said they were required to be interrogated and confronted with each other and the incriminating evidences.

The agency alleged that Tyagi had "abused his official position, and when he was the Air Chief Marshal, he had made huge investments in land and other (properties) and he had not disclosed the source of his income."

It also said the involvement of several others in the entire conspiracy cannot be ruled out. "It was a very large conspiracy having international ramifications. Involvement of others in the conspriracy cannot be ruled out."

The agency claimed that sensitive documents were procured by the firm's officials and several information regarding the procurement of choppers were conveyed to the firm after which the AgustaWestland got the deal.

During the hearing, senior public prosecutor Raj Mohan Chand said that on October 31, 2004, S P Tyagi was appointed the IAF chief and he had to take the charge on January 1, 2005. Till that time, he was attached with the then IAF chief.

The agency said at a meeting on March 1, 2005, a fresh tender was issued for procurement of choppers and a U-turn was taken on decisions taken earlier regarding the chopper deal.

Under the earlier decision, the choppers had to be twin-engined but after this meeting, at Tyagi's instance, it was amended to "at least twin-engined", it alleged.

This amendment was intended to make AgustaWestland eligible for entry as its choppers had three engines, the CBI claimed, adding that Carlo Gerosa, the alleged European middleman, and Sanjeev Tyagi were known to each other.

Later, another alleged European middleman, Guido Haschke, came in contact with Sanjeev through Gerosa, it said.

The CBI further alleged that officials of AgustaWestland visited India several times and they, along with Haschke, met Tyagi unofficially and continued their contact.

Tyagi's counsel N Hariharan opposed CBI's contentions and said the decision to procure the choppers from AgustaWestland was a "collective decision of which PMO was also a part".

"The file moved through several levels but I am the only one who has been arrayed as accused," he said, adding that the investments were made by him post-retirement and there is no ground for seeking his remand.

Tyagi's counsel argued that "the entire material is already with the CBI for sometime and Tyagi joined the probe whenever he was called for. There was a house search a day after the registration of the FIR and CBI had seized all the required materials".

At this stage, S P Tyagi, who was present in the court, told the magistrate, "I can give account of all my land investments if they (CBI) want."

Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, who appeared for Khaitan, opposed CBI's plea saying "I hope it's not the consequence of demonetisation which it seems to be. The FIR was lodged over three years earlier and the arrests now are illogical and illegal."

Luthra claimed that Khaitan had attended the probe on various occasions and his arrest was "malafide".

He said Khaitan was arrested in a case registered by Enforcement Directorate (ED) in relation to the chopper deal and had already got bail in the matter.

"Khaitan had nothing to do with the award of the contract. They (CBI) just want to torture him. What was the CBI doing for three years? ED has already probed the facilitation of money. Money laundering is not CBI's jurisdiction. If they did not need me when I was in ED custody, what grounds they have now," he said, adding that everything said by the CBI against Khaitan was mentioned in ED's case too.

Sanjeev's counsel also opposed the CBI's contention saying that the agency was seeking custody after over three years of filing the FIR and there was no ground to keep them in custody.

After hearing the arguments, the magistrate remanded the three accused to CBI's custody till December 14 saying, "considering the seriousness of allegations and gravity of the matter, I am of the considered opinion that CBI custody of the accused is required for a fair probe".

71-year old Tyagi, who had retired in 2007, his cousin Sanjeev and Khaitan were on Friday arrested by the agency.

These are the first arrests in the case by CBI which came three years after it registered an FIR in 2013 to probe the allegations in the aftermath of details of the scam emerging in Italy where the prosecutors levelled allegations of corruption in the deal against the chief of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland.

The CBI had alleged that in 2005, Tyagi had agreed to change long held stand of Indian Air Force that minimum operational ceiling of the VVIP helicopters should be 6000 metres.

Tyagi allegedly influenced the decision to reduce it to 4500 metres which brought AgustaWestland into the running for the deal when its choppers were not even qualified for submission of bids, CBI sources said.

On January 1, 2014, India had scrapped the contract with Finmeccanica's British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of payment of kickbacks of Rs 450 crore by it for securing the deal.

On April 7, an Italian court had convicted two top executives of defence major Finmeccanica (AgustaWestland is its subsidiary) for paying kickbacks in the deal.

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