Bribes as high as 16 million euros may have been routed to one of India's most powerful political families to swing the nowscrapped AgustaWestland luxury helicopter deal during UPA rule, secret notes allegedly written by British arms agent Christian Michel reveal.
India Today TV has exclusively accessed these handwritten notes, faxes and emails that shed light on how the chopper scandal may have been orchestrated. The Congress, which has been facing heat over the scam-tainted deal, insisted on Wednesday that the BJP-led government act on the expose.
Meticulously maintained by the master-middleman, Michel, the notes provide compelling evidence of how shadowy agents steered the Rs 3,600-crore contract that the Manmohan Singh government signed in 2010. His jottings, which were seized by Italian police and handed over to the CBI later, show AgustaWestland's parent company, Finmeccanica, set aside 52 million euros to bribe decision-makers in India to clinch the deal. Michel, who Finmeccanica hired as a broker for the Indian business, sent regular updates to his bosses in Europe and also to Guido Haschke, the other alleged middleman in the agreement, the notes show.
Updates, according to the highly placed CBI sources, were sent through fax and email. The investigating agency, they told India Today TV, has confirmed contents of Michel's diaries by questioning his secretary, who typed some of them.
In entries dated March 15, 2008, he named some of India's top politicians in and outside of government offices.
"As Mrs Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP, she will not fly any more in the Mi-8," the letter reads. It listed then prime minister Manmohan Singh and Ahmed Patel among Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's key advisers. Separately, Michel mentioned 15 to 16 million euros for a "family" and another three million for "AP". "Who is stopping the government from taking action in the matter," Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.
"Whatever action was taken, it was taken by the UPA, from starting the process to blacklisting the company to the seizure of the helicopter. Now the big question is why is all this happening now? What was the government doing for two and a half years?" The diaries, however, reveal Michel may have paid six million euros to Indian air-force officers, 8.4 million to bureaucrats in addition to 15-16 million to a political family. They also show that he had knowledge of intimate details of meetings of the high-profile contract negotiation committee (CNC).
Michel also claimed to have paid off influential people in India, who helped reject Russian and American choppers.
Besides, he claimed to be in touch with officials from the PMO, SPG, CVC and defence ministry. "Presentation of offer saw the Russians being rejected through a technicality, which was no accident," reads a note dated April 10, 2008. "We are consciously and deliberately trying to disqualify competition at this stage."
Michel also apparently had prior information about meetings. He may have been able to offer big money whenever an opportunity for bribing from his staggering budget of 52 million euros arose, senior investigators say.
His kickback sheet recorded 6 million euros to at least four different IAF officers, cited mostly with the initials of their official titles - DCH (deputy chief of air staff), PDSR (Project Director Service Requirement), FTT (Field Trial Team) and DG Maintenance (Director-General Air Force Maintenance).
His diaries recorded bribes purportedly paid to the defence ministry under then minister AK Antony.
A tidy 8.4 million euros may have been given to at least five senior bureaucrats in the MoD and also to the CAG, coded in his diaries as DS (Defence Secretary), JSAF (Joint Secretary Air Force), AFA (Additional Financial Advisor Air Force), DG ACQ (DG Acquisitions), CVC (Central Vigilance Commission), Auditor General (Comptroller and Auditor General).
"The family want their agreement honoured," said a line in another letter, which pegged the "agreement" with the "family" at 28 million euros. "Now it's been proven that not just the PMO, but even the Gandhi family was involved in the deal," BJP leader Kirit Somaiya said. "I will give a notice in Parliament tomorrow for a discussion on the matter." On April 10, 2008, the diaries also recorded that the CCS (cabinet committee on security)had appointed a "spokesperson to interact with us to facilitate an understanding." A February 8 letter the same year claimed the CVC chairman "was willing to be persuaded". "(The) Maintenance Command is ready to work with us on all technical issues to make the above possible," Michel wrote.
According to top CBI investigators, former air-force chief SP Tyagi- now in custody over allegations of reducing the flying ceiling of the helicopter from 6,000m to 4,500m to put AgustaWestland in the race- had made cash investments worth Rs 2.5 crore in real estate while in office. Tyagi, however, claims he had reinvested money he received from the sale of his land.
But the CBI suspects the cash came from Agusta payoffs. Investigators, most senior officials said, would file their first charge sheet in the next few weeks. They believe they have sufficient evidence to establish the deal was compromised. Top CBI sources say their probe would now focus on suspect bureaucrats and politicians.
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