The arrest of former Indian Air Force chief S P Tyagi by the Central Bureau of Investigation on corruption charges marks an unfortunate new low for the country. This is the first time a service chief, serving or retired, is arrested on any charge. Former service chiefs have been investigated or have faced first information reports in connection with defence purchases in the past. But the investigations did not yield results or the charges were dropped later.
Air Marshal Tyagi is facing charges relating to acquisition of helicopters from a UK-based company AgustaWestland, which is part of an Italian consortium Finmeccanica. The purchase agreement was signed in 2010. Tyagi retired in 2007 but he has been accused of changing the service ceiling of the helicopters to make the company eligible to take part in the tender. The CBI says that 12% of the total purchase order of Rs 3,767 crore was paid as commission to different persons including Tyagi.
The UPA government had cancelled the deal and ordered an investigation by the CBI after the bribery charges surfaced in 2013. The case was also investigated by the Italian police in that country and the Finmeccanica chief and others were convicted by the court there earlier this year. Tyagi’s name had figured in the case in Italy too, but a lower court had acquitted him and others. A higher court convicted the company officials on appeal later.
Since the convictions were made on the ground that bribes were paid by the company, it is necessary to find out to whom they were paid. The CBI has got details of the case and some evidence about the reported wrongdoing from the proceedings of the case in Italy. But it has to collect independent evidence in India about the role of Tyagi and others. Apart from Tyagi, two persons, including a relative, have been arrested and it is likely that more people may be involved.
The CBI should bring out the truth about the charges through a thorough investigation. It has investigated the case for three years. Only on the basis of convincing evidence, brought out through fair investigation, should the suspects be charge-sheeted. There is a need to make evidence public.
There should not be any vindictiveness or undue interest in pursuing the case. This needs to be reiterated because the case belongs to the UPA era and there might be pressure or temptation to politicise it.
Defence deals are not easy to investigate because of their complications, international ramifications, red herrings, false leads and other problems.
The CBI should do an honest and efficient job and bring the case to an early closure.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: It should be clarified that the Milan Appeals Court convicted former AgustaWestland CEOs Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini on circumstantial evidence.
The appeals trial, and the initial trial before it, did not uncover any evidence of improper payments, nor any other money trail.
It should also be noted that ACM Tyagi was arrested because he is suspected of having lowered the RFP’s altitude requirement to allow AgustaWestland AW101 to compete.
Yet, as stated by the government’s own Press Information Bureau and the Ministry of Defence in February 2013, the altitude requirement was changed at the end of a comprehensive process by various government agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office.
Surprisingly, the Central Bureau of Investigation refuses to accept this statement.
It is pursuing its three-year investigation while disregarding the exculpatory evidence, which can only fuel speculation about its ulterior motives.)