Former IAF chief Sashindra Pal Tyagi on Wednesday tried hard to make clear that he was innocent in the `3,546-crore deal to buy 12 VIP helicopters from the graft-tainted Italian defence major Finmeccanica’s subsidiary AgustaWestland.
Only a day earlier, the Italian judiciary in Milan had mentioned his name as one of the Indian beneficiaries of the `350-crore payoff in the 2010 contract signed by India for the AW-101 three-engine helicopters to fly Indian President, Prime Minister and other VIPs in style. Reports originating from Italy had in October last year suggested the involvement of a mysterious middleman, who has strong connections in the defence establishment, in swinging the VIP helicopters’ deal in AgustaWestland’s favour. This important detail had emerged out of the year-long probe by Italian prosecutors into the “corrupt practices” adopted by Finmeccanica.
Tyagi, nicknamed ‘Bundle’ by his fellow officers, claimed he has no clue about the wads of foreign currency that changed hands for fixing the deal in AgustaWestland’s favour.
“I am innocent. These allegations are totally baseless and I am denying them categorically. The deal was signed in 2010, whereas I retired in 2007 itself,” Tyagi, who got into defence business consultancy following his retirement from service, told reporters. Even at the recently concluded AeroIndia military air show in Bangalore, Tyagi was present on behalf of an European aircraft manufacturer for whom he is providing consultancy with regard to their Indian interests.
Interestingly, Tyagi, though a former IAF chief, was chosen as the co-chair from the Indian side of a track-2 diplomacy project comprising retired military officers and bureaucrats, which had controversially put forward a proposal for the demilitarisation of Siachen Glacier.
The India-Pakistan military CBMs project had held meetings in Dubai in November 2001 and Bangkok in February 2012. These rounds of the CBMs were organised by the Canada’s University of Ottawa and the South Asia Centre at the Atlantic Council. The proposal to give up the strategic advantage that India had in Siachen for “Aman ki Aasha” project came under severe criticism from several military minds, including Major General S G Vombatkere.
Tyagi, who began his IAF career in December 1963, is a veteran of 1965 and 1971 wars that India fought against Pakistan. In his over four decades of service in the IAF, Tyagi held several prestigious posts, including that of the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the IAF’s sword arm, the Palam-based Western Air Command that guards all air space north of Delhi, before he became the Chief of Air Staff in 2004.
A fighter pilot, the former IAF chief has flown the British combat plane Folland Gnats when he began his career and went on to fly the Hunters. He was one of the eight pioneer batch combat pilots who inducted the Jaguar interdiction fighter jets into the IAF in the 1980s.
A journalist, who has closely known Tyagi during his service days, recalled that soon after his retirement at the age of 62, the former chief had openly expressed his amazement over the opportunities in the civvies street. And probably that was when he got into the defence business consultancy and began advising firms on the ways to do business in India.Tyagi’s name figured in the Italian judiciary’s warrant, which talked of two AgustaWestland managers being the intermediaries to help it win the 12-chopper contract in India. The warrant talked about a part of the `3-crore consultancy fee paid to the go-betweens -- US-born Guido Ralph Haschke and his partner Carlo Gerosa -- in Euros ending up with Tyagi’s cousins Juli, Docsa and Sandeep Tyagi.
The prosecutors estimated the payment to be worth `75 lakh. The October 2012 reports from Italy had suggested that Juli, whose real name is Sanjeev Tyagi, was an IAF officer, though he had only joined the Air Force Academy, but did not complete training or get commissioned into the service.