Governors to Be Only Witnesses In VVIP Chopper Case: CBI
(Source: The Hindu; published May 18, 2014)
(See Editor’s Note at bottom)
NEW DELHI --- The Central Bureau of Investigation, in response to a query from the Union Law Ministry on the ongoing probe into AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, has reiterated that the agency would examine Governors M.K. Narayanan and B.V. Wanchoo as witnesses.

The Law Ministry had earlier denied permission to the CBI on the grounds that West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan and Goa Governor B.V. Wanchoo enjoyed Constitutional immunity. The agency then wrote to the President Secretariat seeking opinion, citing that the Secretariat would be in the know of the set procedures.

The CBI again received a query from the Law Ministry as regards its motive behind the questioning of the two Governors. Accordingly, the CBI has clarified that it only needs their statements as witnesses.

Mr. Narayanan, as the then National Security Advisor and Mr. Wanchoo, as the Special Protection Group chief, had allegedly attended a meeting in 2005 in which the tender specifications for procurement of VVIP helicopters were “tweaked”.

The CBI has alleged that during his tenure, former IAF chief S.P. Tyagi had approved reduction of the service ceiling of VVIP helicopters from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres, a relaxation that allowed AgustaWestland to qualify for the tender. (Emphasis added—Ed.)

Alleging that middlemen were hired and bribes paid on the pretext of engineering contracts to swing the deal in the company’s favour, the agency has named the retired Air Chief Marshal, his three cousins and several others in the case. (ends)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: It is becoming progressively clear that India’s case against AgustaWestland is groundless. It is falling apart for lack of evidence -- in nearly 18 months, none has been found to link the company to alleged illegal payments -- and could well be dropped by the new government.

The gravest allegations being investigated are that AW bribed senior Indian Air Force officials to lower the required operational ceiling from 6,000 meters (which AW’s candidate, the AW101, could not meet) to 4,500 meters.

These allegations are manifestly at odds with the public record:

1. The altitude requirement was officially lowered by Indian authorities according to their regular procedures, as is demonstrated by this excerpt from a Feb. 14, 2013 statement issued by the Ministry of Defence:

Acquisition of AW-101 Choppers for IAF: The Facts

3. On November 19, 2003 a meeting was taken by Principal Secretary to PM (Prime Minister—Ed.) on this subject. In the meeting, Principal Secretary observed that his main concern was that the framing of the mandatory requirements has led us effectively into a single vendor situation. It was also noted that PM and President have rarely made visits to places involving flying at an altitude beyond 4500 meters.
In the meeting it was decided to make the mandatory requirement for operational altitude 4500 meters. The higher flying ceiling of 6000 meters, and a cabinet height of 1.8 meters could be made desirable operational requirements.

It was observed that with these revisions, several helicopters which otherwise met all requirements but had been rejected due to the altitude restriction, would now come into the reckoning.

2. In a separate hstatement dated Dec. 11, 2013, titled “Lowering Altitude Requirement of VVIP Helicopters,” the Ministry of Defence said that:

“Indian Air Force in January 2004 has emphasized that the altitude requirement of VVIP helicopters be kept at 6,000 metres as ‘an in escapable necessity’. However, in the contract signed with M/s Agusta Westland on February 8, 2010 for procurement of 12 VVIP/VIP helicopters, the technical requirements specified in the Request for Proposal (RFP) that was issued on 27th September, 2006 were formulated after detailed discussions among all the stakeholders and as per the stipulated guidelines.

The statement adds that “The Service Qualitative Requirements (SQRs) were so formulated that they meet the essential requirements for VVIP transportation in Indian conditions, while ensuring that the requirements were adequately broad based to evoke a multi-vendor response.”

It is hard to see, in light of the above, and in the absence of any other evidence, how AW could be suspected of having paid to change specifications that top Indian government officials themselves decided to change to avoid a “single-vendor” situation.

In other words, AW has had its contract cancelled, some of its bonds confiscated, and it (and its corporate parent, Finmeccanica) has been barred from the Indian government market simply because of vague suspicions and hearsay that frightened India’s former defense minister, AK Antony, to the point that he took measures that, on the evidence now available, seem very excessive.

It will be interesting to see how the incoming government handles this affair.)


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