The AgustaWestland VVIP chopper “scam” has dominated the debate in Parliament over the past week upstaging the issue of water scarcity and drought in Maharashtra and other Indian states.
The ruling BJP members have been trying to corner the Opposition Congress by raking up the alleged kickbacks in the chopper deal while the latter is accusing the former of diverting attention from important issues.
The ruling party claimed the earlier Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had not blacklisted AgustaWestland (AW) for personal benefits and that it will ask Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to file a report and initiate the proceedings to blacklist AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica.
BJP president Amit Shah has challenged Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her associates to come clean of the AgustaWestland chopper deal.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, on the other hand, accused the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of allegedly shielding “bribe-givers” and allowing the helicopter makers to participate in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Here is all you need to know about the AW chopper deal:
1. In February 2010, giving in to the demand of the Indian Air Force (IAF), the UPA government headed by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a deal with UK-based helicopter maker AgustaWestland to procure 12 AW101 choppers for flying VVIPs, including the prime minister and the president.
2. The deal was worth over Rs 3,700 crore.
3. The company had already delivered three choppers to India when on February 12, 2013, the Italian Police arrested AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolin and Finmeccanica chairman Giuseppe Orsi on charges of paying bribes to win the 560 million euro ($749 million) contract.
4. The UPA government’s defence minister AK Antony put the deal on hold. At that time, India had paid 30% of the deal amount. Till date, neither AgustaWestland got the remaining payment of Rs 2,400 crore, nor did IAF get the remaining nine choppers.
5. According to a report filed by Italian investigators, ( according to media reports) the main middlemen were Guido Haschke and Christian Michael, who were set to pocket a 7.5% commission in the Rs 3,700 crore deal.
6. In March 2013, the CBI accused former Indian Air Force chief S P Tyagi for extending favours to AgustaWestland and changing specification requirements for the helicopters.
7. An FIR was lodged against Tyagi and 12 others, including Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) Cheif Executive officer (CEO) Satish Bagrodia, IDS Managing Director (MD) Pratap Agarwal, and Tyagi’s three cousins.
8. In a major twist in the tale, in 2015, there were reports of Tyagi being acquitted by the Italian court in connection with the scam. The Milan Court of Appeals even reportedly said no Indian official was involved as a middleman.
9. Sonia Gandhi’s name was dragged into the controversy after the court noted conversations among the three middlemen – Carlos Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guildo Haschke – where they mentioned “Mrs. Gandhi” being the “driving force behind the VIP” reported the Firstpost.
10. In April this year, the Italian court has sentenced Guiseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolin to four-and-a-half years and four years in prison respectively, as well as ordered them to pay €7.5 million euros ($8.5 million).
11. In the latest tug-of-war between the BJP and Congress, the former alleged Gandhi and her political secretary Ahmed Patel were “architects of the scam”. Countering the charge, Antony challenged the Modi government to take action against those involved in the corruption.
He claimed the previous NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had changed the parameters required for acquiring the helicopters for VVIPs.
“Don’t create doubts, you’ll not succeed. Don’t politicise, you’ll repent. If you have all evidence, take strong action. But don’t threaten and don’t blackmail,” Antony said while participating in the debate over the issue in Rajya Sabha.
Sreya is based in Kolkata. She is a Senior Editor of Big Wire.