Bribe givers behind bars Bribe takers still at large
Unprecedented! A judgement of Milan Court of Appeal, 7000 kms away, has proved, what was always suspected, that in all government deals, palms are greased. It is a mafia like operation, where money has to be paid from the netas to everyone involved in decision-making.
But what has raised the political temperature here is the naming of Indians in the Air Force, bureaucracy and politicians, in the judgement by the Milan Court, who took money from a middleman of the sellers during the negotiation and signing of the agreement for the purchase of 12 Westland helicopters for use of VVIPs.
The names range from the former Air Force Chief S.P. Tyagi and his relatives, then Defence Secretary, one AP to many others. Sonia Gandhi is said to be driving force for the purchase of the AgustaWestland helicopter.
The mention of Gandhi has caused an upheaval; her party has fenced her from any allegation, even by innuendo, while the ruling party, the BJP, is naturally trying to take as much political mileage from the judgement as possible. Innuendos and insinuations are plenty when mentioning Gandhi.
Will the already beleaguered Congress Party suffer, perception is more important for a political
leader than what may be the actual fact? The BJP is trying its best to create a poor perception of Sonia Gandhi. The result, a fierce political battle is being fought.
This became obvious on the day the fall-out of the judgement of the Milan Court of Appeal was to be discussed in the Rajya Sabha.
Its Chamber had the atmosphere of Gladiators’ arena on that day — tension was palpable, the duellists (speakers) chosen to speak seemingly well-braced and raring to go. But at the end of over five-hour long debate, it was Subramaniam Swamy who deflated the aggressive Congress members. Earlier intervening in the debate former Defence Minister A. K. Antony was combative when pointing out that the stipulation of the helicopter reaching 6000 ft was changed to 5000ft by Brijesh Mishra, NSA during Vajpayee rule. But he admitted that there was corruption in the deal and he added, “It is proved beyond doubt that there is corruption. There is the Italy judgement. All legal hurdles are over, you have to act. Act now…Take strong action but don’t threaten, don’t blackmail.” Go and find out the bribe takers and punish them, challenged Antony beride whom was sitting Dr Manmohan Singh throughout his speech. Singh’s name has been mentioned in the judgement, as one of the persons who is close and can influence Sonia Gandhi.
The Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar speaking after over five-hour long debate was fully prepared to put the blame on UPA government. Reading from his 10-page statement began with an anecdote on Birbal and bamboo sticks. There was a thief who got so unnerved that he implicated himself. The implication was clear; the job unnerving the Congress has been left to Dr Subramaniam Swamy.
Parrikar tore into the previous government pointing out its omissions and commissions. From tweaking of technical parameters in outright favouring AgustaWestland AW-1O1 helicopters to some invisible hand guiding the initial inaction by the CBI and ED, Parrikar said there was relentless push by the UPA government to go for the Rs 3546 crore deal for 12 helicopters.
The Congress has to be on the back foot, as many terms of contract were broken with surprising invulnerability. The ‘grease’ must be of very high quality because of which the actual purchase price changed astronomically. Rules and terms of contract were violated with impunity. It seems everyone was caught in the web of corruption woven by an Italian company Finmeccanica, agents for AugustaWestland. And since most had been ‘looked after’ by Christian Michel, the middleman for the deal, everyone felt safe.
They must have slept sounder after a lower court in Milan dismissed the charge against Finmeccanica of having given bribes to Indians. But without warning the judgement by the Court of Appeal has horrified the guilty.The testing of whatever is likely to be purchased has to be done in India. But in this case it was done in the UK and that too with a different make helicopter. Everyone seems blindfolded with heavy pads of currency notes.
The Congress men would not have been too much worried but for BJP MP Subramanian Swamy. He has caused jitters in the Sonia camp as well. One Congress leader said Modi has unleashed Swamy on us and he has gone to rest. And no doubt Swamy is attacking with ferocity the Congress where it hurts the most. He has been demanding that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should be summoned by the CBI on the AgustaWestland helicopter case. “(Going by) the Italian court judgment, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Ahmad Patel and Oscar Fernandes should be summoned to the CBI headquarters and asked what they know about this (AgustaWestland helicopter case).
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the probe in the AgustaWestland helicopter case will focus on those named by the Italian court. The Times Of India narrated how fearful Congress men are of Swamy. ‘The rush of MPs — till then chatting and savouring food and hot drinks in central hall — towards the Rajya Sabha chamber as Subramanian Swamy began speaking said it all. The BJP MP might have become a lightning rod for disruption, but neither side wants to miss out on the pyrotechnics. In the event, Swamy did manage to get the goat of Congress benches with his references to party chief Sonia Gandhi and dogged refusal to authenticate a particular document unless leader of opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad did so too.
Swamy’s demand that political personalities named in the Italian court documents be questioned by the CBI and even be subjected to custodial interrogation set off protests from the Congress benches. The paper in question was the alleged note of Choppergate middleman Christian Michel that Swamy claimed has been referred to by Azad, though the Congress functionary angrily denied the imputations the nominated MP was making. Before Swamy spoke, the much anticipated showdown in the Rajya Sabha had failed to spark into a flame. The MP began by dwelling on Congress allegation that it was NDA that had changed the ceiling specification for the helicopters, a move that helped the AgustaWestland machines.
Swamy said that the NDA-era decision was intended to ensure that the acquisition did not face a single-vendor situation. It was not aimed at altering the ceiling and it was UPA that did this in 2006. The UPA also tweaked the cabin size to virtually rule out all of Agusta Westland’s competitors.
The CBI has by now interrogated Tyagi and his family members and has now reportedly called others from the Air Force whose names have been mentioned in the judgement in abbreviation. The ED has also been active.
To Question Or Not To Question
One who is chosen for the constitutional post of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) is considered to be an upright, honest and impeccably clean person. The present CAG, a Bihar cadre officer, Shashi Kant, a former Defence Secretary, was appointed by UPA in 2013.
The NDA government led by Narendra Modi is now caught in an unenviable dilemma over whether or not to subject Sharma, for his name figures in the list of recipients of bribes in the aborted Augusta Westland VVIP helicopter purchase deal, to interrogation.
There is a handwritten document which was found with the middleman Christian Michel which is attached, on page 9, of the Italian appeal court judgment. In it, Sam Rajappa, formerly of The Statement has said, instructions are written for Michel as to how to distribute the bribe amount to the key people, Indian Air Force officials, bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence including Sharma and Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, among others.
“The crucial document was written in March 2008 when Sharma was Director-General (Acquisition) in the Defence Ministry. He was appointed as the CAG in May 2013 by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.
“He was involved in most of the defence deals in the next 10 years till he retired as Defence Secretary in 2013. His political masters found him useful not only in striking lucrative defence deals but also in other matters such as ensuring a chosen line of succession for the post of Chief of Army Staff.”
According to Rajappa, “No defence deal takes place in Delhi without greasing the palms of political leaders and it helps them if pliable men head the different services. There is an unwritten convention in the ‘Delhi Durbar’ that 40 per cent of the kickbacks go to the key decision-maker involved, 40 per cent to the ruling political party and 20 per cent to the opposition politicians to keep them in good humour.”
Is nemesis catching up as past seems to haunting him. He was the Director-General of Acquisitions in charge of defence purchases in 2007. He served in that post till September 2010. These were crucial years.
“During the last six years of his stewardship in the Defence Ministry, Sharma was involved in clearing all major purchases running into thousands and thousands of crore of rupees. Correspondingly, the defence budget grew hugely and touched Rs. 203,672 crore in 2013-14. A major share of the annual budget is accounted for by defence procurements and acquisitions. Among the controversial procurements Sharma was involved in were the payout of $ 2.9 billion to Admiral Gorshkov for refurbishing, a discarded Russian naval ship acquired by India for $ 947,000 in January 2004, the aborted Rafale deal, and resumption of Tatra trucks purchase which Gen VK Singh stopped after he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore by the middleman in 2012. In all these scams the CBI drew a blank.
A few petitions objecting to his appointment were filed. One was by Kamal Kant Jaswal, director of Common Cause, had sent a memorandum to Murli Manohar Joshi, then the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, pointing out the conflict of interest such an appointment involved. Joshi reportedly did not take notice of the memorandum.
BR Ambedkar and others have described the CAG as the most important officer under the Constitution and one who must be above suspicion like Caesar’s wife. “If this functionary is to carry out the duties which are far more important than the duties even of the judiciary, he should have been certainly as independent as the judiciary,” said Ambedkar. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, observed, “It is of the highest importance that a proper check is maintained on expenditure and that the funds drawn by various government departments are not in excess of the appropriations.” Speaking about the role of the CAG in the preservation of democracy in the country, S Radhakrishnan, as Vice-President, said, “The Audit Department is obliged to say things which are embarrassing to the government on account of their responsibility.” Vinod Rai, Sharma’s immediate predecessor, did just that and came a cropper.
Thereafter, N Gopalaswamy, former Chief Election Commissioner, two of the former chiefs of the Naval Staff, Admiral (Retd) L Ramdas and Admiral (Retd) RH Tahiliani, EAS Sharma, KK Jaswal and Ramaswamy Iyer, former Secretaries to the Government, BP Mathur, former Deputy CAG, MG Devasahayam, former IAS and Indian Army Officer, and S Krishnan, a retired officer of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service, filed a petition in public interest seeking a writ of quo warranto or any other appropriate writ to declare the appointment of Sharma as the CAG as void as it was made arbitrarily by a procedure that did not withstand the test of constitutionality and also on the ground nemo judex in causa sua which means no person shall be a judge in his own cause, in the Delhi High Court. The petition was rejected.
BR Ambedkar had said that CAG has to be above suspicion like Ceaser’s wife. Now with the judgement of the Milan Court of Appeal, there is no way to suppress suspicion. So what next!
Offshoot Of Westland Chopper Political Scandal
According to a report, 20 senior Indian journalists sell country’s interest for money. Who are these intellectual brigands? If the report is correct, and not a misinformation planted for diverting attention from other urgent matters and issues, they must be ‘ousted’, severely condemned and punished as traitors. They, if the revelation is true¸ sold not only their soul but also suppressed deficiencies in the Westland helicopters.
‘’The revelation that the fugitive middleman in the AgustaWestland (AW) deal, Christian Michel, had allegedly collected six Million Euros (₹45 crores) from AgustaWestland chopper manufacturer Finmeccanica for managing the Indian media” opens a Pandora’s Box.
As it is the issue of paid news had bedevilled the Indian media. A leading newspaper publishing house was suspected of taking a huge amount to publish on its first page a report of the birthday of a tycoon’s wife. But that’s nothing compared to how a few, said to be 20, senior journalists were lured by Michel—a tacit undertaking that they give only positive report about the chopper deal.
Earlier to that he, a middleman for Finmeccanica, took—and this was not generally known — on its behalf Indian journalists on a fully paid tour of Italy in 2013. It is said that these journalists were interviewed by Enforcement Directorate. Since one never heard anything after that, the whole trip must have been normal—junkets are routine. .
Ironically, the scribe who reportedly exposed the junket was allegedly part of the delegate of journalists who went on the fully paid trip. According to the Pioneer, this journalist was working for a Hindi channel. However, the scam was unearthed by him on behalf of investigative
magazine Force. Although, he was considered to be the one behind unearthing the Rs 3,600 crore scandal, his acceptance of the paid
hospitality offered by middleman Michel on behalf of Finmeccanica has raised doubts that he was turned one among the beneficiaries. After all Finmeccanica, allegedly, had provided Michel 30 million pounds which were to be used as kickbacks, commissions and bribes to swing the deal in their favour.
All these facts tumbled out after the Milan Appellate court recently ordered the arrest of the CEO and chairman of Finmeccanica. Michel has had a central role in an Italian prosecution case.
Following the sensational arrest, as we know India ordered a CBI investigation and has initiated the process of cancelling the helicopter contract with Finmeccanica unit Augusta Westland, invoking an integrity pact.
The report about Rs45 crore assigned for Indian journalists is beginning to seem as if it was planted to put the media on the defensive. There has been no follow up. Subramaniam Swamy has not raised the matter. But even then the inquiry should be made, because ever since the report appeared speculations about the identity of the ‘beneficiaries’ have muddied many.
AS ED WIDENS INQUIRY, CAN IT AVOID SONIA?
It is learnt that after interrogating former IAF chief S P Tyagi, his cousins and brokers,
Enforcement Directorate has now extended its inquiries to other likely beneficiaries, for instance serving and former officials in the defence ministry and IAF whose designations are mentioned in middleman Christian Michel’s handwritten note.
The note seized was dictated by Michel and written by Guido Haschke, both middlemen, reveals how “bribe money” of 30 million Euros was to be distributed among Indian bureaucrats, politicians and IAF officials. The note, believed to have been written in 2008 in Michel’s London office, listed designations like ‘DCH’, ‘PDSR’, ‘DG Maintt’, ‘FTT’, ‘DS’, ‘JS Air’, ‘AFA Air’ and ‘DG Acq’. Following this the ED has reportedly told defence ministry to provide property details of at least 10 officials who handled the chopper contract over a period of time. Some of the officials mentioned in the document presently hold important posts in government and constitutional bodies.
What could be alarming for many is the report that the ED has also started a probe into references made under the heads “BUR” (bureaucrats) and “POL” (politicians) in the note, which is part of the Italian court judgment convicting former chief of defence firm Finmeccanica Guiseppe Orsi and former AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini for graft. This could make it very difficult for the ED investigators to avoid meeting with Sonia Gandhi.
According to a the Times of India report that top ED officers told the paper “they have identified these people whose designations are mentioned in the note recovered from Haschke by Italian investigators”. An ED officer said, “This document is part of the Italian court judgment, which said Indian officials had been bribed. Since the document has been made part of the judgment, it is an important piece of evidence now, hence it is important to examine the truth behind these coded references made by Michel and Haschke.” The officer added, “Since a chunk of the money was brought to India by Michel in cash, it is important to know whether there is truth in this note and if anyone was paid money as claimed by him.”
Under the head ‘AF’ (for air force), it used abbreviations of designations like ‘DCH’, ‘PDSR’, ‘DG Maintt’ and ‘FTT’. Under the head ‘BUR’, it had entries like ‘DS’, ‘JS Air’, ‘AFA Air’, ‘DG Acq’, ‘CVC’ and ‘Auditor Gen’ and under the head ‘POL’, it had ‘AP’. The note had a separate entry ‘Fam’, believed to be S P Tyagi’s family — his three cousins Sanjeev, Rajiv and Sandeep.
Is this True?
Michel family and the Gandhi family go a long way back, SAY ‘Team Performance Gurus’, This article was reportedly published in the Pioneer in 2013. The two main middlemen in the Agusta Westland VVIP Chopper deal are Christian Michel and Guido Haschke. Both are closely associated with the Gandhi family. While Christian Michel and his father, the late Wolfgang Michel are directly associated with the Gandhi family from Indira Gandhi’s time, Haschke has close ties with Rahul Gandhi’s private secretary Kanishka Singh’s relatives, who run the real estate company Emmaar MGF.
Wolfgang Michel was involved in defence deals in the 70s and was a frequenter to Delhi. He had a close association with Indira, Rajiv and Sonia. He was also dealing in Airbus, Dassault and British origin companies’ businesses in India. When he became a persona non grata in the Defence Ministry, the old player, who passed away in August 2012, cleverly passed all his deals to his son Christian Michel in the mid-90s. In February 2013 and July 2013, the Pioneer newspaper reported in detail about this matter.
In the mid-90s, Wolfgang Michel was playing in between Sonia Gandhi and the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. Senior Michel used to provide information on Sonia’s trips to London to Rao. Haschke was a Director of Emmar MGF in 2009. How a Swiss national became a Director is a question for another time, and perhaps another post. Emmar MGF is founded by Rahul Gandhi’s private Secretary Kanishka Singh’s maternal grandfather Ved Prakash Gupta in the early 60s in Delhi. Currently, Kanishka’s uncle Rajiv Gupta heads the company. When the news broke out, Emmar MGF issued a press release that Haschke served as Director for a few months and that they have no business relations with Kanishka. This company bagged the biggest chunk of work in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Emmar MGF was the builder of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) village. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) once registered a probe in connection with CWG scams and soon closed the case during UPA tenure. Why? The answer is simple – they are related to Kanishka Singh.
One expects the investigation will reach sensitive area, which is touch, the politicians, including Sonia Gandhi, one hears. Indian politics is in for churning.
By Vijay Dutt