At the centre of the political firestorm in Parliament and outside over the VVIP chopper deal are four references to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the verdict delivered by the Milan Court of Appeals.
The appeals court on April 8 convicted three officials of AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica, overturning acquittals by the lower court.
These references relate to two documents recovered from the suitcase of alleged middleman Guido Haschke during his arrest by the Italian police in Switzerland. One of the documents was a note titled “budget expenditure items”. The hand-written note mentioned coded references to bureaucrats, politicians and IAF officers against amounts earmarked to be paid to them.
The other document is a typed letter dated March 15, 2008, and written to Peter Hulet, then India region sales and liaison head of AgustaWestland, mentioning the names of Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh as “targets” in the VVIP deal. Both the documents were purportedly written by alleged middleman Christian Michel.
In a letter written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, 2015, Michel distanced himself from the hand-written note, saying it had been forged by Haschke. Although he made no direct reference to the typed letter, he said Haschke had forged many other documents, including his signature, and he had sued Haschke for it.
Both documents were produced in the trial court in Italy as well. The Indian Express reported on the documents on January 10 and February 5, 2014.
In a translated version of its judgment, the appeals court, while citing the statement of a witness to the documents being found in Haschke’s suitcase, says: “From Venere: …we are in a document that is classified E13… a document that (Christian) Michel then sent to Peter Hulet… director of the team which in India took care of the race we are dealing with… For speed I read it in Italian: ‘Dear Peter, since Mrs Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP (choppers), she will no longer fly with MI8… Mrs Gandhi and her closest advisers are the target of the High Commissioner, senior advisor Prime Minister Manmohan SINGH is obviously the main figure; then there’s Ahmed PATEL Secretary… Pranab MUKHERJEE was the minister… was then the finance minister now… he is the current president of India… I do not know who he is, Oscar Fernandez… is a local politician. Narayanan is a name I have heard…
In the same statement the order talks about the handwritten note. It says in the translated version: “…These figures are indeed books that we discovered in the villa of Haschke. So these documents, together with an additional letter that we found in the suitcase of Haschke, where basically we say are shown chronologically and with a number, a letter and a symbol next to each number and letter with digits, and then connect. So the first group is <Air Force>, then <Air Force India>, the second are the number 2, the bureaucrats and a whole host of figures within various digits; number 3 <pol> politicians. The letter A is the abbreviation ‘AP’. …We saw that AP corresponds to Ahmed Patel… we think we can bring this theme under “politicians” and with the letter A to Ahmed Patel…”
The document the statement refers to is the note titled- “budget expenditure items” on page number 9.
The typed letter in the judgment is on page number 193, and later on 204.s