The Ministry of Defence (MoD) under ‘Mr Clean’ A K Antony could do no wrong. Or that is what the South Block mandarins want the nation to believe.
The MoD has given itself a clean chit in the `3,546-crore contract for 12 AgustaWestland VVIP helicopters, the officials said here on Thursday. However, an Italian probe since 2011 into the deal, which was signed in 2010, has revealed that at least `350 crore were paid as kickbacks to middlemen and some powerful Indians to swing the contract in the Italian major’s favour.
A team of MoD officials and CBI officers is in Italy to collect information on the bribery case and on the Italian probe into the murky affairs of AgustaWestland.
In what is described as an informal internal inquiry carried out by bureaucrats, the MoD has concluded that followed “all procedures properly” while processing the procurement of the 12 three-engine AW-101 helicopters in a VVIP configuration to fly the President, Prime Minister and other dignitaries in style. Three of the 13 choppers were delivered in December last year and the rest slated for delivery by March 2014.
According to the officials, the premise of the clean chit was that the MoD had carried out a “textbook purchase”. “There is no trace of money being paid to our officials involved in the procurement procedure,” they said, about the outcome of the probe ordered by Antony, following the arrest of Guiseppe Orsi, then chief of AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica, in Milan on February 14.
Orsi was AgustaWestland chief between 2004 and 2011, before his ascension to Finmeccanica’s top post.The Italian probe had also found that AgustaWestland had set up slush funds, said to be over `350 crore, under Orsi to pay off the middlemen. The middlemen included US-born Swiss Guido Haschke Ralph, his partner Carlo Gerosa, Christian Michel and Julie, Docsa and Sandeep Tyagi, who are the cousins of former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal (retd) S P Tyagi.A seven-page, 35-point MoD statement on the chopper deal issued last week had clearly indicated that the tender was issued in late September 2006 under Defence Procurement Procedure-2006, which was in effect from September 1 that year. President Pranab Mukherjee was then Defence Minister in the UPA-I Government. But the competing helicopters from both AgustaWestland and American Sikorsky were flight-tested, commercial bids opened, contract negotiated and signed, all under Antony, who took over as Defence Minister in October 2006 and continued in that post in UPA-II as well.