‘Changes in Italy chopper deal were professional’

Former air chief SP Tyagi, who is at the centre of a storm over alleged kickbacks in the $750 million deal for 12 VVIP AgustaWestland helicopters, claimed innocence and supported the CBI enquiry into the matter.

Updated: Feb 13, 2013, 14:38 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: Former Air Chief Marshal Sashi P Tyagi, who is under scanner over allegations of receiving kickbacks in the $750 million deal for 12 VVIP AgustaWestland helicopters, on Wednesday said that he is ready for a probe by any agency into the matter.

Claiming innocence in the Rs 3,546 crore chopper deal with Italy’s state-run defence firm Finmeccanica, Tyagi said, “I am shocked why my name has come up…it is shocking for me, it is bad news for the entire Air Force, it is horrifying.”

Defending himself, Tyagi said, “The charge is that a bribe was given to me to change the requirement of the Air Force to suit AgustaWestland. To the best of my knowledge air headquarters did not change the requirement. Also the Air Force can only recommend changes; they are approved by the Ministry of Defence. All I can say is that the government enquiry will reveal the truth.”

He also categorically denied charges that changes in tender were made to enable the Italian defence firm enter the bidding process.

“The changes made in the Italian VVIP chopper deal of 2010 were a professional decision and not a political one. George Fernandes used to go to Siachen and that`s when the 18,000 ft requirement came. Cabin height of the helicopter did not suit the SPG. This is not political, this is professional," Tyagi said.

Based on what he has heard about the deal, the former air chief said that the initial requirement was for a chopper that can fly at 18,000 ft. Tyagi agreed that the entire process to acquire VVIP helicopters was initiated in the year 2000.
When asked about the involvement of his family members, Tyagi said, "Yes, they are my cousins. To the best of my knowledge they have nothing to do with defence. I do not have an explanation on the Italian investigations."

Commenting on the political blame game, Tyagi said, "I am not a political animal, local politics will go on and on. We never discuss procurement with politicians."

Tyagi’s explanation over the matter came after allegations surfaced that his close family members allegedly received part payments amounting to 100,000 Euros from two AgustaWestland managers.

The allegations were made by the Italian investigators hours after they arrested Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi over corruption and embezzlement charges in connection with his firms defence deal with India.

The Italian prosecutors also claimed that the country’s state-run defence firm paid huge kickbacks to Tyagi when he was chief of the IAF to swing the controversial AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal in its favour.
The Italian investigators gave details of their ongoing investigation into the alleged chopper deal in a 64-page report that was filed in the tribunal of Busto Arsizio city for the arrest of Finmeccanica CEO on Tuesday.

In the report, the Italian prosecutors alleged that the then IAF chief, SP Tyagi, was instrumental in swinging the deal and was paid - "certain amount of money, not yet quantified"- through intermediaries –one of them being Julie Tyagi, a close relative of the former IAF chief.

The preliminary inquiry report further alleges that technical requirements for the contract were tweaked by India to allow the AgustaWestland chopper enter the bidding process and that kickbacks of 51 million euros (about Rs 370 crore) were paid in Italy and India.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister AK Antony today warned of action against those involved in the deal and said, "Whoever is found guilty in the Italian chopper deal will have to pay the price and nobody will be spared."

The government has also ordered a CBI probe into the matter.