August 3, 2020
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Broken facade
VVIP chopper scam: Political beneficiaries and corrupt practices in MoD

The Agusta VVIP chopper scam has brought shame and ignominy for Indian Ministry of Defence and Defence Minister A K Antony who has been misleading the Parliament and people of India with a facade of honesty while hiding full facts and showing deliberate insincerity towards a thorough investigation into the case and fixing the guilty at the earliest.

Defence Minister Antony who was aware of the case of corruption even much before it became public by Italian authorities appears to have deliberately delayed the investigation process to protect scamsters and ‘the family’ - whom he owes his loyalty all these years and the MoD portfolio.       

His tenure, by his own admission in the Parliament as CBI has registered 23 cases since 2010 to probe defence purchases which were suspected to involve kickbacks, has seen highest number of scams in the history of MoD and Independent India.

While the chopper deal became a victim to corruption, Antony and MoD surprisingly remained honest. The cheerleaders and immoral defence correspondents carried out a sustained image makeover campaign to give Antony a clean image.   

Antony is now proven rusty and heading one of the most corrupt ministries of Dr Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers who are a liability to the country and utterly corrupt which one may not have seen in recent time.

Like his Prime Minister, whom some even call a defeated general, Antony too has carved out a aura of honesty which is now breaking like a mud wall after Italian authorities found out list of beneficiaries in the Indian chopper deal concluded by MoD.

Antony may or may not have taken money but he is politically immoral and intellectually dishonest which has badly affected India’s war preparedness and brought down the moral of Indian armed forces on several occasions.   

Statistics, technical and circumstantial evidences suggest Antony has allowed corruption to spread in MoD in an unprecedented manner, perhaps willfully allowing it to happen, which has compromised India’s national security at a time when the country is facing dual front threat from China and Pakistan.

Cancellation of deal

The MoD has not initiated a full probe into who all in India got benefitted and how the scam took place as they falsely rely on Italian court document to make further progress.

This shows sheer insincerity and the MoD is acting half heartedly under public pressure as most suspected that the highest beneficiaries could be the Congress Party and ‘the family’.    

To protect the beneficiaries, the MoD has cancelled the Rs 3600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal after the then-chief executive of the Italian firm Finmeccanica was arrested last year by his country’s police for allegedly paying bribes to secure the deal.

The deal involved the purchase of 12 AW101 helicopters to transport top politicians across the country. After allegation of kickbacks, the Indian government froze any further payment to the company.

Though AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica both denied any wrongdoing, the Indian MoD has over the past year maintained that there was very little chance of the contract being finalized, especially because both companies had been charged with violating the integrity pact.

But the biggest question is how the same ‘Honest’ Defence Minister initially went ahead and signed this deal in such a hush-hush manner.

With the recent revelations coming out of this whole scam indicates that Indian MoD signed this deal in a hurry because Antony’s Congress Party and those who have appointed him as the Defence Minster in Dr Singh’s cabinet made huge money out of this deal.

Antony, who is more interested in Kerela politics, after so many defence scams and delayed projects under his leadership, still maintains a clean image of Mr Honest, with the help of PR machine and sycophant journalists who often look at small personal benefits.

STRATEGIC AFFAIRS was the first magazine that raised questions on the ways and means of the whole VVIP helicopter deal which was cleared under suspicious circumstances.

Indeed, firs time in the history of India’s independence, defence payment was cleared within a week against a strong advice of defence finance. Even the head of then defence finance was threatened by Antony’s staff to clear the payment within three days leaving no time for scrutiny.

It is shameful for a country like India, which maintains a strong democratic tradition, to have a Defence Minister like Antony who has introduced a political barter mechanism to cling on to power.

Antony has not yet resigned despite public pressure and the scam, at least Indian part of the probe, is getting suffocated as the minister is showing no signs of any intention for facilitating a free and fair investigation.

The revelations made by alleged middleman Guido Hashcke in the chopper scam case has not surprised this publication as we are fully aware about Antony’s cleanliness in public and private life as he has ruined this important ministry called MoD, that looks after India’s national security interest.

Haschke has given his statement to the court in Milan on his role in the chopper scam and a team of Indian officials present there was given an opportunity to question him but Indian team refused without giving any logical reason.

Haschke also threw light and explicitly clarified how he got the deal done and who all were beneficiaries.

The references to initials of politicians and designations of bureaucrats have come up as the Italian prosecutors presented a memo prepared by the middlemen in which a ‘draft budget’ for provision of 30 million Euros has been made to swing the deal allegedly in favor of AgustaWestland.

To make the probe credible, Italian court had allowed Indian authorities to question alleged middleman Guido Hashcke in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam. However, according to sources, a team from the Indian MoD declined the opportunity to interrogate him, and refused to offer a valid reason for doing the same.

The beneficiaries

According to reports from Italy, Haschke has claimed that Euro 6 million were paid to Indian Air Force officials and Euro 8.4 million to the Indian MoD bureaucracy.

In the draft budget, references have also been made to ‘AP’ (A Patel) and ‘FAM’ (the Janpath Family) in the list under the provision for politicians.

Indeed, A Patel is the trusted fund collector for the party for years and he is also the safe keeper of money for the family parked in various global destinations.

Antony may or may not have taken money but he is politically immoral and intellectually dishonest which has badly affected India’s war preparedness and brought down the moral of Indian armed forces on several occasions.

Strategic Affairs was the first magazine that raised questions on the ways and means of the whole VVIP helicopter deal which was cleared under suspicious circumstances.

At the time of the deal being concluded, S K Sharma (now appointed as CAG) was DG Acquisition and Pradeep Kumar (then Defence Secretary) is now rewarded with the coveted post of CVC.

Even the head of then defence finance was threatened by Antony’s staff to clear the payment within three days leaving no time for scrutiny.

The bureaucracy list includes references to abbreviations “DS”, “JS AIR”, “AFA”, “DG Acquisition”. But they have not been explained in detail.

At the time of the deal being concluded, S K Sharma (now CAG) was DG Acquisition and Pradeep Kumar (then Defence Secretary) is now rewarded with the coveted post of CVC.

It can be easy to understand the abbreviations and initials who made money, no detailed explanation is even required, if one is slightly aware about MoD’s corruption machination and how it works in reality in a concerted way.

This syndication is quietly tolerated by honorable Defence Minister who has no desire to resign. It is clear that Antony is power hungry but publicly maintains that he is above all this.  

Once this initial and abbreviations came out publicly, the whole MoD started the process of protecting the beneficiaries and decided to scrap this deal with immediate effect.

Well what stopped the MoD from doing so when at the initial stage it was almost declared and proved that bribes were paid in this deal with the use of middlemen where a former IAF chief and his relatives were involved?

This shows that the deal was made to ensure the interest of high profile people in politics and bureaucracy and it was scrapped at an appropriate time to protect the interest of the very same people.

With the revelations made by Haschke it is clear that everybody made money from Family to party to all strong bureaucrats positioned in the MoD, but the former IAF chief was made the scapegoat. It is very similar to what happened with Suresh Kalmadi in Commonwealth games.

This has become a trend for the ruling government in India that you put up a person with clean and honest image in an important ministry who will be so obliged with the gesture that in return they will ensure protecting all vested interests till they are in that position.

However, the bright examples of which are honorable Prime Minister and honest Defence Minister! This farce has been exposed with the scandal of chopper scam.

The process

The IAF wanted to induct VVIP helicopters to convey senior Indian political leaders and foreign dignitaries in comfort and safety. Indeed, sophisticated, highly protected and very expensive, the AgustaWestland AW-101 forms a part of the US president’s fleet.

In recent years, several global arms companies have buckled before India’s MoD while paying bribes and getting blacklisted with global damage to their reputation rather than challenging the world’s biggest buyer of weaponry.

The Anglo-Italian helicopter company AgustaWestland made it clear that it stands ready to take the MoD to court to protect its reputation and a contract to supply the IAF with 12 AW-101 VVIP helicopters.

In India, just for public consumption the anti-corruption probe into the deal was going slowly. The CBI had filed an FIR naming several Indian businessmen and former Air Chief S P Tyagi and his cousins. There is no indication yet that the CBI had probed the role, if any, of politicians and MoD bureaucrats in fixing the deal.

According to CBI reports, Haschke and Carlo Gerosa (both middlemen) managed to send 5.6 million Euros through Mohali-based IDS Infotech and Chandigarh-based Aeromatrix Info Solutions Private Ltd to India and kept the remaining amount of about 24.30 million Euros received from AgustaWestland with themselves in the account of IDS Tunisia.

The Italian prosecutor who carried out the preliminary inquiry here has alleged that the CEO of Finmeccanica, the parent company of the UK-based AgustaWestland, had used services of middlemen to bribe Indian officials.

The 2010 deal was for supply of 12 helicopters for Indian VVIPs, out of which three had already been delivered when the controversy erupted in February last year with the arrest of two top officials of the firm.

India had already made 30 per cent payment and further payment was in the pipeline for three more helicopters when the freeze was ordered.

Soon after this the MoD ordered a freeze on the deal months ago, the company had alleged that India was acting ‘unilaterally’ and invoked arbitration proceedings against it. The Defence Ministry had then refused to be drawn into a legal battle with the company.

But later, on the opinions given by the officials of the Law Ministry, it was decided that the MoD will get into arbitration process after the deal is scrapped.

Soon after the arrest of the firm’s former CEO, Guiseppe Orsi, in Italy in connection with the case, MoD had suspended the payments to be made to it along with the delivery it was due to make to IAF of the remaining nine choppers.

The CAG had also highlighted loopholes in the deal. It said in August last year that the MoD had initially stipulated that the helicopters should be able to fly to an altitude of 6,000 metres (19,685 feet), which meant that AgustaWestland could not compete since the AW101 was certified to fly only to 4,572 metres (15,000 feet).

Later, the minimum altitude requirement was lowered to 4,500 metres (14,763 feet), even though the helicopters were expected to be used in mountainous northern and northeastern parts of the country where altitudes are higher.

The MoD had initially raised questions over IAF’s plans to hold the field evaluation trials of the Anglo-Italian AW-101 and American Sikorsky S-92 choppers in their home bases and not in Indian conditions.

The Defence Procurement Board (DPB) had also asked the IAF to review its decision in this regard and test the two choppers in Indian conditions.

It was only after the IAF put across the argument about the delay in procurement process, the minister and the DPB gave a go-ahead for the trials to be conducted outside India.

Though Indian side is now talking about how it initially objected to the overall process of this acquisition, it should be remembered that it was in Italy where reports of bribes and use of middlemen to get this deal was highlighted.

Had it not been raised by the Italian court, the whole deal would have gone smoothly in India and the kickbacks would not have ever come into public.

The document produced in the Italian court by Haschke has three sections under which initials of politicians, designations of IAF personnel, and positions of bureaucrats respectively have been listed. Haschke has confessed in court that he drew up the list based on Michel’s assessment of what would be needed for the operation in India.

Under the heading ‘POL’ - Haschke explained in court that this referred to Indian politicians-there are two references. One is to ‘AP’ against which 3 million Euro has been listed. The other is FAM-against which 15/16 million Euro has been listed.

Under the heading ‘BUR’- explained as ‘bureaucrats’ in court by Haschke - six abbreviated designations have been listed.

Five are key posts in the Defence Ministry-“DS”, “JS AIR”, “AFA”, “DG Acquisition” and “another Gen”. The sixth abbreviation in the list is CVC. A total of 8.5 million Euro has been budgeted under the BUR head.

Under the third heading ‘AF’ (Air Force), four abbreviations have been mentioned. Two are ‘PDSR’ and ‘DG’; the other two are not clear.

What next?

Now when the Indian MoD has cancelled the deal, lot of question remains to be answered. What will happen to the already arrived three VVIP choppers. Who will be providing the maintenance, overhaul and repair, spare parts support to them.

India never learns from its past mistakes. This deal is proving to be another Bofors scam where we did not bother to take the ToT from OEM and later paid a heavy price.

Government is talking about the recovering Euro 250 million but cancellation of the deal will not absolve the government of its wrongdoings because three helicopters have already been delivered and in case compensation has to be paid, the country will have to pay the damages.

Indian MoD is trying to encash the bank guarantees provided by AgustaWestland and blaming only the company for violating the integrity pact. But why it is not questioning that what made them to violate this act, what made them to bribe Indian officials and bureaucrats in this deal.

When the ball was in their court, the Indian MoD did not take any action saying it will be taken at an appropriate time but when the fear of more exclusive details coming out of the confession of the middlemen surfaced they are trying to hide everything by merely scarping the deal.

The country pays the price for this corrupt Congress regime. The UPA government will be remembered in history as government of, for and by the corrupt.

The MoD says its case is strong in VVIP deal since there is irrefutable proof in the documents submitted in the Italian court and obtained by Indian authorities to show middlemen were used and kickbacks were paid in the deal. But can MoD dare to ask the politicians and bureaucrats to come clean on what happened in the chopper scam.

In fact, some of the bureaucrats mentioned in the confession by Haschke at the moment hold very significant position in the Indian government and cannot be questioned easily. This was also pre planned to post all the corrupt bureaucrats involved in this deal at safe positions.

The looser in this whole VVIP scam is not the MoD, forces or politicians but it is the nation. Who will reimburse the loss of reputation, money, time and hope.

India should try to recover the bribed money paid and prosecute those who are found guilty in Italy and India both.