A former top official of tainted helicopter firm AgustaWestland has told an Italian court that Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi was hosted in Milan by the top management of the company in 2007 when he was the chief of the Indian Air Force.
But defence lawyers are expected to strongly reject this claim during a hearing on Thursday and contend that the officer was never in Italy on the dates mentioned. Tyagi, who retired on March 31, 2007, did not respond to calls from The Indian Express seeking comment. Government sources said there is no evidence available on whether the officer visited Italy while in service.
More clarity is expected on Thursday when defence lawyers question Agusta’s former senior vice president for international business, Giacomo Saponaro, who made the claim Tuesday. Saponaro is being questioned in the case that 51 million euros were allegedly paid as bribes to bag the deal for 12 VVIP choppers for the IAF.
On Tuesday, Saponaro told a court near Milan that Tyagi was hosted by the then Agusta CEO Giuseppe Orsi, a key accused in the case who was arrested and released on bail last year. Saponaro claimed that Orsi took Tyagi to a fancy theatre performance and also hosted an expensive dinner for him in early 2007.
Tyagi is named as an accused in the Italian case and is also being investigated as an accused by the CBI that has registered a case into the scandal.
Saponaro told the court that Orsi took the then IAF chief to the Teotro alla Scala, one of the most famous opera houses in the world located in Milan. After the performance, Saponaro claimed Tyagi was taken for a fancy dinner at the restaurant of the opera house, the Biffi Scala.
However, Saponaro added that as far as he knew, there was no discussion on business during the dinner or the performance. Saponaro claimed the expenses for the evening were borne by the Anglo-Italian company. Indian rules do not permit officers to accept favours that involve monetary considerations while on official tours abroad.
The court hearing also saw investigators produce as evidence reports published in The Indian Express in 2012 about the chopper deal. The articles were said to have been sent via fax by Dubai-based British middleman Christian Michel to his contacts in AgustaWestland in December 2012. The purported correspondence was shared in court to establish the close connection between Michel and the firm. Michel had been given contracts worth over 30 million euros by Agusta in the days corresponding to the Indian deal and they have allegedly been found to be bogus.
One document produced in court was a purported fax of December 2012 from Michel to then Agusta CEO Bruno Spagnolini and contained reports published in The Indian Express on the VVIP chopper deal. The reports were about the investigation into the scandal and said the Indian defence ministry had found out the technical specifications for the tender had been significantly modified to facilitate the entry of Agusta into the race for the deal.