In a sudden and first of its kind action, the Central Bureau of Investigation on Friday arrested former Air Force Chief S P Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev, and a lawyer in the sensational Rs 450 crore bribery case in the procurement of 12 VVIP helicopters from United Kingdom-based AgustaWestland during the United Progressive Alliance-2 government.
Tyagi, 71, who retired in 2007, was called for questioning at CBI headquarters along with his cousin and Chandigarh-based lawyer Gautam Khaitan, who were taken into custody after nearly four hours of grilling, CBI sources said.
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 the 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.
In a statement in the evening, CBI spokesperson Devpreet Singh said, “It was alleged that Chief of Air Staff entered into criminal conspiracy with other accused persons and in 2005, conceded to change IAF’s consistent stand that service ceiling of VVIP Helicopters 6000 metres was an inescapable operational necessity and reduced the same to 4500 metres.”
She said such changes in Operational Requirements made the private company based at the UK (AgustaWestland), eligible to participate in the Request for Proposal for VVIP Helicopters.
“It was revealed during investigation that such undue favours were allegedly shown to said UK-based private company by accepting illegal gratification from the accused vendors through middlemen/relatives including his cousin and an advocate etc who accepted the illegal gratification for exercising influence through illegal means, or using personal influence over the concerned public servants,” CBI spokesperson said.
Singh said the arrested accused persons will be produced before the competent court on Saturday where their remand would be sought.
In media interviews during the last three years, Tyagi and his cousin had strongly denied having taken any bribes to influence the deal.
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.
CBI had claimed that Khaitan accepted having taken money from European middlemen Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa but insisted it was not kickbacks to influence the deal. CBI sources said the bribe amount was routed through middlemen and relatives to exert influence over Tyagi.
CBI alleged that in 2005, Tyagi had agreed to change the long held stand of the 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.
The CBI had registered a case against Tyagi along with 18 others, including his cousins, European middlemen and companies.
The CBI had sent judicial requests to eight countries -- Italy, the United Kingdom, British Virgin Island, Tunisia, Switzerland, Singapore, the UAE and Mauritius to get details of money trail of the kickbacks which landed on the Indian shores allegedly in the form of off-set contracts to IDS, Chandigarh, Praveen Bakshi, one of the accused.
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.