By Atul Kumar Mishra –
In the tele series House of Cards, US President Garett Walker has a rich business man friend called Raymond Tusk who ultimately becomes the cause of his doom. A scheming Vice President Frank Underwood (also the protagonist of the series) exposes the President-Corporate nexus and quickly grabs the throne. That’s a tele series after all and an American one at that. But Congress is truly International as far as its approach is concerned and Congress eats and sleeps corruption. An Italian court’s judgment exposes the role of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh in AgustaWestland Chopper Deal – The Rs 3,565-crore AgustaWestland contract for buying VVIP helicopters from Italian company Finmeccanica, signed in 2010, involving payoffs to Indian officials.
AgustaWestland Chopper Deal: The Judgement
Citing handwritten notes seized from middlemen, the judgment says that the political leaders accepted commission of 15 to 16 million Euros (Around Rs 120 to 125 crore) in the controversial purchase of the 12 VVIP choppers. The judgment states that the firm lobbied with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her close aides along with then NSA MK Narayanan and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The Court under discussion – The Milan Court of Appeals is equivalent to an Indian High Court. It overturned a lower court judgement that stated its inability to prove corruption in the AgustaWestland case. The Court also found two of Finmeccanica’s then top bosses guilty of international corruption and money laundering. The Court order mentions Sonia Gandhi’s name (signora GANDHI) four times. The name appears two times each on page 193 and 204 of the judgment. The Order convicts one Giuseppe Orsi, one Bruno Spagnolini and other officials of Finmeccanica. Giuseppe Orsi has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. Bruno Spagnolini has been given a four-year jail term. The court also ordered the two executives to pay 7.5 million euros ($8.5 million). The two officials were held guilty of paying bribes to Indian officials for easing the business.
AgustaWestland Chopper Deal: The Indians involved
As far as the accusation on Indians are concerned. Close associates of former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi are under scanner. Tyagi himself happens to be one of the accused. The prosecutors in the case alleged that a part of bribe money was paid through UK-based consultant Christian Michel to influential politicians in India. Back then, Congress was in power, so who these influential politicians are, is anybody’s guess. The judgment also says that the fugitives identified Congress leaders including Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel on the court when their photos were shown to him during the trial by the Italian prosecution. The Indian Government was asked to provide documents in April 2013, but the government “didn’t respond” until March 2014. This was raised by BJP legislator Mrs. Meenakshi Lekhi. Mrs. Lekhi went to the extent of calling it Congress’s attempt to shield the Italian Mafia.
The 225-page judgment on the AgustaWestland case also annexes several documents and handwritten notes exchanged between the middlemen on how the total commission of Euro 30 million was distributed among India’s political leaders, bureaucracy, and Air Force officials.
A letter dated March 15, 2008, seized by investigators shows the main middleman Christian Michel, who is still a fugitive, writing to Peter Hulet, then India region sales and liaison head of the helicopter company. The letter states that Sonia is the main driving force behind this deal and she will no longer fly in the existing MI- 8 choppers. The letter is quoted verbatim in the judgment. Details of lobbying and corruption of Congress leadership, writing to the then British High Commissioner in India that he should target top Congress leadership for clinching the deal are clearly explained.
AgustaWestland Chopper Deal: Distribution of bribe
The Page 9 of the Judgment also attached the handwritten note of Michel on the distribution formula of 30 Million Euros. Air Force officials were allotted six Million Euro and Bureaucracy including Defense Ministry officials to be allotted 8.4 Million Euro. The Political leaders were to be allotted 15 to 16 Million Euro. Only one political leader to whom the money handed over is shown as AP, which refers to Ahmed Patel as. The note also shows on sharing the commission with kin of the then Air Force Chief S P Tyagi.
As far as the judgement is concerned, three names are absolutely clear. Sonia Gandhi, Her close confidante Ahmed Patel and of course Ex PM Manmohan Singh. Indian Government must take up the case strongly and work with the Italian Government to make sure that the guilty are brought to justice. Sonia’s connection with Rome’s underbelly were a folklore till now. Some called it Subramanian Swamy’s rant. But the AgustaWestland judgement compels us to think otherwise.