Prosecutors in an Italian court Thursday asked the key middleman in the IAF’s VVIP chopper deal whether the initials ‘AP’ in an alleged “budget sheet” for bribes to politicians referred to Ahmed Patel, the political secretary of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
The middleman, Guido Haschke, who has consistently denied bribing Indian officials or politicians, replied that he did not know who or what ‘AP’ stood for.
As first reported by The Indian Express, Italian prosecutors had last month produced a handwritten document they alleged was a “budget” drawn up by two middlemen — Haschke and Christian Michel — which purportedly lists initials of Indian politicians and designations of bureaucrats and IAF officers who allegedly had to be “handled” to fix the Rs 3,546 crore deal.
The alleged “budget sheet” detailed how kickbacks of 51 million euros would be divided and under the heading “POL” — Haschke has claimed this referred to Indian politicians — there is a reference to “AP” against which “3 million euro” has been listed.
Another amount of 15/16 million euros was listed against “FAM” which is said to be “Family”. Haschke has claimed the note was dictated to him by British consultant Michel during one of their meetings in 2008.
On Thursday, Italian prosecutor Eugenio Fusco asked Haschke during a court hearing in Busto Arsizio near Milan whether “AP” in the note was a reference to Ahmed Patel. In his reply, the middlemen said he did not know what AP meant when he wrote it down. Haschke also denied any bribes were paid for the contract and said that the “budget sheet” was just an imaginary note drawn up and was never acted upon.
He also said the budget sheet was merely bragging by Michel about his Indian contacts and that Haschke tried to disassociate himself from the Briton. Strongly denying any wrongdoing in the deal, Haschke also claimed to Indian interrogators in the court that no bribes were paid for the contract and that the money he received from AgustaWestland – in excess of 24 million euros – is justified as fees for engineering consultations.
Italian prosecutors also produced another note in court Thursday – a March 2008 fax by Michel to Peter Hulett, said to be the then head of region, govt sales at AgustaWestland’s India office. The fax said that among the politicians who would use the choppers once acquired by India would be UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and her senior advisors, including Ahmed Patel.
However, Sonia is not entitled to use government helicopters. She can use VIP aircraft only when she flies with the PM, President or ministers who are officially entitled to the aircraft. This fax by the British middleman has also been shared by the Italian side with the CBI team that is in Busto Arsizio for the hearing.
Michel has been elusive and no investigative agency has been able to reach him. Haschke, who is facing a case in Italy for being part of a conspiracy to bribe Indian officials to ensure the AW 101 chopper was picked by the IAF, faced several questions from the Indian side and denied any irregularity. But the Indian side did not ask Haschke to explain what AP, FAM or any of the other acronyms in the note – “DS”, “JS AIR”, “AFA”, “DG Acquisition”, CVC” etc – referred to, source said.
The middleman, who was quizzed about his association with former Air Chief S P Tyagi – named as an accused in the CBI case in the deal – denied that any money had been paid to the retired Indian officer. Haschke, sources said, admitted that he was in regular touch with three cousins of Tyagi who have also been named in the case.
In response to a question from the Indian side, Haschke said he was not aware if any money was paid to S P Tyagi. The UPA government had come under pressure in connection with the alleged kickbacks last month after The Indian Express report on the budget sheet of the middlemen. The opposition BJP had demanded the government reveal what or who “AP” and “FAM” stand for. The party also said that it wants a detailed discussion in Parliament on “alleged payments to persons close to the ruling establishment” in connection with the controversial chopper deal and has accused the government of “running away from discussions”. The discussion did not take place as the Parliament session was abruptly called off midway.