VVIP Chopper Scam: ED’s Agusta charge sheet and Modi govt’s claims don’t match

New Delhi:A slew of technical shortcomings with Agusta (AW-101) VVIP choppers are now popping up in official government statements, even as the Rs 3,726 crore deal is caught in controversy. It now unfolds that corruption via kickbacks were encouraged, so that, these major shortcomings – which have now become the basis of political furore between BJP and Congress inside and outside Parliament – will be overlooked.
Questionably, though the Enforcement Directorate (ED) chargesheet filed in the case in November, 2014, gives a miss to some of the glaring technical lacunae in AW-101 choppers, which, according to latest revelations by government, were tried to be covered up by those involved in giving and taking the kickbacks.

Notably, the ED registered the case under the prevention of money laundering Act (PMLA) on July 3, 2014, more than a month after the current Modi government came to power on May 26. However, it is further notable that ED premised its complaint on the basis of an FIR registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on March 12, 2013, when the Congress-led UPA was in power.

On Friday, referring to facts that emerged from the field test of the AW-101 choppers, defence minister Manohar Parrikar pointed out in Lok Sabha that serious questions were raised about chopper’s capacity. The helicopters failed test at 5,400 feet in Srinagar and it was clearly flagged to be unsuitable for flying in Gulmarg and Pahalgam. In an elaborate statement, quoting from what he claimed were official files, Parrikar said of Agusta trials that, “effective pay load capacity at MSL in OGE configuration is nil above 30 degree centigrade…meaning that if the temperature is above 30 degree C then it would not be able to lift any load. With day time temperature usually above 10 degree in most of the plains of North India, pay load capacity in OGE configuration is limited to 300 kg, reducing with every degree rise in temperature above 10 degree. Effective pay load capacity at 3,500 feet, AMSL in OGE configuration is nil above minus five degree.” Parrikar also pointed to a “mysterious”fire at the ministry of defence (MoD) on June 3, 2014, that burnt Agusta files and said he will get CBI to investigate it. None of these find a mention in the chargesheet.

Former Indian Air Force (IAF) chief SP Tyagi along with 13 others including his cousins and European middlemen are named in the case. According to Parrikar, Tyagi and others, who are accused of reducing flying ceiling of the helicopter from 6,000m to 4,500m (15,000ft), which put AgustaWestland helicopters in the race for the deal, are small fries and it were the Congress-led government of that time that was involved in the larger game of Agusta corruption. If not for change in the ceiling, Agusta choppers couldn’t have qualified for even submission of bids.

While the change in ceiling forms part of “facts and circumstances of the case leading to the filing of the (ED) case”, curiously, the CBI complaint that led ED to register a case, reads that the then PMO during UPA rule acted to reduce the ceiling on inputs/suggestions by the Indian Air Force (IAF) only. The facts of the case with the CBI and ED tends to tilt against Tyagi more rather than the government of the day. “It was during the tenure of ACM (retd) SP Tyagi as the chief of air staff and with his approval that air force conceded to reduce the service ceiling to 4,500 metres as mandatory or to which it (IAF) was opposing vehemently on the grounds of security constraints and other related reasons,” the ED chargesheet reads.

Sukhois too flew in with allegations
Mulayam Singh Yadav, as defence minister in 1996 Deve Gowda-led United Front government, signed a $1.8 billion contract to buy up to 50 Russian Sukhoi Su-30 MK – currently India’s frontline fighter jets – even as the IAF was not very keen to get it. According to then reports, IAF then was doing well with the induction of Mirage-2000 and Mig-29 into its fold.

On Sukhois, former IAF chief Surinder Kumar Mehra was famously quoted as saying, “It’s a very good machine, but we are not interested”.

The chopper now used for VVIPs
The Russian Mi-17 V5s have replaced Mi-8s for VVIP travel in India. The former has been upgraded and specially configured for VVIPs.

What the chargesheet doesn’t mention clearly, but Modi govt claims
The AW (101) failed field trials in Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg

That field trials were conducted in UK

That a fire at the ministry of defence burnt sensitive Agusta files

That it was UPA government and not former IAF chief SP Tyagi who designed Agusta corruption

Those facing the heat
Former IAF chief SP Tyagi

Sanjeev aka Julie Tyagi

Docsa Tyagi

Sandeep Tyagi

Gautam Khaitan (associated with Aeromatrix)

Praveen Bakshi

Giuseppe Orsi (former CEO, Italian defence major Finmeccanica)

Bruno Spagnolini, CEO, AgustaWestland (Britain-based subsidiary of Finmeccanica)

Guido Ralph Haschke (middleman)

Carlo Gerosa (middleman)

Christian Michel (middleman)

Firms named:


​# AgustaWestland

IDS Infotech Ltd (India)

Aeromatrix Info Solutions Pvt Ltd (India)