It seems that the UPA’s doubtful past and numerous scams during its tenure are preventing the Congress from fully recovering. One such fiasco, the Augusta Westland scam dates back to 2010 when a tender was assigned to Augusta Westland and 12 AW101 helicopters were to be acquired by the government of India from Augusta Westland at a total cost of Rs. 3,546 crores. Out of these 22 choppers, 8 were to be assigned to the Prime Minister, President of India and other ministers.
In 2013, the scam came into public knowledge and shocked everyone. The CEO of Augusta Westland and the CEO of its parent company, Finmeccanica, were arrested in Italy on the grounds of bribing Indian middlemen. This made it clear that the transaction was not a transparent one.
The then Defence Minister, A.K. Antony launched a probe into this matter. The deal was scrapped in 2014 and the Modi government blacklisted Augusta Westland three months into its tenure. However, not much happened on the Indian side after the arrests were made in Italy, until last year when the accused were sentenced to four years imprisonment in Italy. The 225-page judgment contained many observations and remarks which are of great significance for India as well and opened up new details into the case. In particular, the notes exchanged between Christian Michael and Peter Hullet, who was heading the company’s operations in India gave a new angle to the entire scam.
This note, among others, also finds a place in the judgment. As per this note, Hullet was asked to target Sonia Gandhi’s inner circle: the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the then second-in-command and former President Pranab Mukherjee, Minister Veerappa Moily, the Congress Party’s chief strategist Ahmed Patel, and senior leader Oscar Fernandes. The then National Security Advisor, M K Narayanan was also mentioned in the note. Coming to the role of former Air Marshal S.P. Tyagi, the judgment stated that corruption did take place. Tyagi is alleged to have tweaked the specifications in order to favour Augusta Westland for the deal.
The Italian judgment had already revealed sufficient material for investigations into the case, and now the ED has got fresh leads into the scam. A money trail has emerged that was used to route kickbacks to those involved in the scam. Fresh leads into the case have revealed that high-profile Delhi lawyer, Gautam Khaitan who was accused with money laundering in the scam played a larger role in routing the kickbacks to the beneficiaries of the scam. It has come to light that Khaitan was the director of KRBL Ltd. which is being probed for money laundering in the Augusta Westland case.
ED has also retrieved two emails from the hard disk of Khaitan’s office computer providing ED with concrete leads in the case. The agency has reportedly succeeded in cracking the kickback-links in the deal between Mauritius and Dubai. The role of a defence dealer and a UAE sheikh is now being probed. ED officials have also discovered the bank accounts in which kickbacks for the Augusta Westland scam were parked for further distribution among the beneficiaries.
This is very bad news for the Congress and especially those who are the alleged beneficiaries of the scam. The ED seems to be moving at a brisk pace and now it has been able to crack the money trail and connecting the dots along with links in the case. It seems that Congress is getting no respite from its questionable deal.