VVIP chopper scam: The latest developments

AgustaWestland AW101 (Source: PTI)
After crash landing on Congress' doorstep, the alleged AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam has found a second life and does not seem to be going away any time soon. 

Last week saw the Bharatiya Janata Party go after Congress President Sonia Gandhi in earnest even as her party left no stone unturned to tell the public that it was their government which cancelled the deal and initiated investigations into the matter. 

Corruption in the purchase of 12 AW-101 helicopters from Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland International Limited, for an estimated amount of euro 556 million (currently Rs 4,195 crore), has already seen the Central Bureau of Investigation quiz former Indian Air Force (IAF) Deputy Chief J S Gujral for over eight hours on Saturday, with former IAF chief S P Tyagi having appeared before the agency on Monday.

One of the alleged middlemen in the deal, James Christian Michel also came forward, offering himself up for questioning by Indian authorities as long as the 'interview' was conducted outside India. Michel was also the source of the allegations that the Modi government had struck a deal with the Italian Prime Minister offering Italy the freedom of the two marines accused of killing Indian fishermen in exchange for information linking Sonia Gandhi and her family to the chopper scam. 

Let us look at details which have emerged as the month begins. 

Not your garden variety FDI: 

Part of the amount paid as kickbacks in the alleged scam was repatriated to the country in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI), the Economic Times reported on Monday. 

According to the report, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has found "a web of companies" meant to "route" Rs 37 crore to Indian entities. The report adds that these shell companies were based out of Mauritius and Tunisia. 

The amount, according to the report, is part of the "Rs 160 crore that AgustaWestland allegedly paid to middlemen", with the remaining Rs 123 crore unaccounted for so far. 

Citing the ED, the report says that about Rs 29 crore was received by Chandigarh-based firm Aeromatrix Info Solutions Pvt Ltd. Of this amount, the report says that Rs 4.77 crore came "by way of criminal act in the shape of FDI... from Infotech Design System, Mauritius". The remaining Rs 24.6 crore, according to the ED, was received by the same company "through a Tunisian intermediary as payment against software exported to AgustaWestland", the report adds.

The report adds that the remaining part of the Rs 37 crore was paid to beneficiaries who had rendered services to AgustaWestland. 

The Punjabi music angle: 

Michel was into Punjabi music and it seems so were Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials.

According to India Today, Michel had floated a media company to "export Punjabi music CDs from India". The report adds that the firm was "never used for the purpose". Instead, it was used for “obliging” former officials at the MoD in return for insider information about the chopper deal. 

The report cited ED sources as saying that Michel, with the help of one R K Nanda, floated the company named Media Exim. The money pumped into the company, according to the report, came from Michel's Dubai-based company Global Services FZE.

According to the report, investigations revealed that the Safdarjung Enclave-based media company's travel agency was "used to oblige former officials of the defence ministry". 

The report adds that these facts came to light after the ED nabbed Michel's driver and questioned him. 

Parrikar to clear the air: 

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Sunday that he will place all the facts, along with the detailed chronology, about the chopper deal before Parliament on Wednesday.

"I will place the detailed chronology, giving facts about the chopper deal before Parliament on Wednesday. I will place the detailed chronology, giving how and when necessary clauses or provisions were relaxed to suit the company," Parrikar told reporters. 

Parrikar had earlier called for the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) dispensation to provide answers about the allegations linking it to the alleged scam.

However, the Defence Minister conceded that the individuals who had received undue gains were unlikely to have left a trail. 

Parrikar further asked the then UPA government why it had not blacklisted AgustaWestland.

"I challenge the Congress to show the UPA government's order blacklisting the AgustaWestland company. Let them reply first why it was not banned. It was during our (National Democratic Alliance) government that we banned it," he said.

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