NEW DELHI: On August 7, 2007, Lufthansa Flight 763 flew out of IGI Airport here bound for Munich. Among the passengers was a man CBI and Enforcement Directorate investigators believe played a shadowy role in bringing a portion of Agusta-Westland VVIP chopper kickback amount to India using a maze of companies registered in Tunisia and Mauritius. Just a week later, on August 14, 2007, Rs 14 lakh was wired to India from Tunisia followed by another Rs 2.18 crore. The man on the Lufthansa flight, sources revealed, was Praveen Bakshi, who facilitated the transfer of slush fund though in small amounts to make it legit.
The sources confirmed that Munich was not the final destination of Bakshi and he visited Milan for a suspected rendezvous with Agusta officials and middlemen in the Rs 3,600 crore deal which was by then at a crucial stage.
On Dec 11, 2007, Bakshi boarded KLM Flight 872 for Amsterdam. The sources said details of Bakshi’s meetings are yet to be ascertained though they have unearthed another wire transfer of Rs 85 lakh from Tunisia immediately after his trip, followed by four such other transactions. “Bakshi, as CEO of Aeromatrix that was launched to camouflage the kickbacks, knows details of middlemen and Agusta officials’ role and how the money was channelised.”
“Praveen Bakshi will be grilled further to gather crucial information on the kickbacks,” sources said, adding that his role in the entire scandal is appearing to be much bigger than just a shadowy operator.
In October 2008, when the Contract Negotiation Committee of the Defence Ministry sat down to finalise the deal, Bakshi was again found to be in Munich. But, this time he was not alone and sources have confirmed that Gautam Khaitan, another accused in the case, was also travelling with him and both returned to Delhi on October 16, 2008, by Lufthansa Flight 762.
Now, Bakshi’s role was indeed getting bigger. On March 28, 2010, AgustaWestland’s key middleman in the VVIP chopper deal, Guido Haschke, received a call from 9815****55.
The man on the line was Bakshi, who, according to sources, had several meetings with Haschke in India and abroad. Bakshi’s call, investigators said, was significant since AgustaWestland by the time had entered into an agreement with the Indian government to supply 12 VVIP choppers.
Sources pointed out that on March 31, 2010, just two days after Bakshi’s call to Haschke, another transfer of Rs 3.87 crore was wired through Tunisia and Mauritius to India. This was followed by 8-9 other such transactions.
And it was not just Haschke, who Bakshi was calling. On January 7, 2011, Bakshi called 39332****869. The man at the other end was Garvaglia Attilio, a AgustaWestland official sitting in Italy.
Though there are no details of what Bakshi discussed with Attilio, investigators suspect that he was directly in touch with Agusta officials to facilitate the laundering of kickback amounts as the call was followed by a transfer of Rs 4 crore.
Around 10 days later on January 17, 2011, Bakshi received a call from 41796****71.
It was Carlo Gerosa. A month later Bakshi, on February 22, 2011, made a call to 21620****03. It was Kammoun Hedi on the line from Tunisia, another cog in kickback wheel. This piece of evidence completes the circle but startled investigators who believe the arms dealers’ network in AgustaWestland case is too wide and deeply knit.
Sources also confirmed that Bakshi made a trip to Zurich in 2011 and had a secret meeting with Haschke and Gerosa. Interestingly, around the same time, other players in the deal, including Gautam Khaitan, Rajiv Tyagi, Sanjeev Tyagi and Sandeep Tyagi, were descending on Zurich.
“We have collected evidence of all fund transfers and are working on the leads. Some information has been gathered and in some cases Letters Rogatory have been sent. It’s a long-drawn process and in certain cases, response from other countries takes more time than expected,” the sources added.
ED Summons Tyagi for the first time
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