Updated: April 4, 2014 8:00:01 am
Guido Haschke, the key middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal scandal, who is accused of handling bribes worth millions of euros to clinch the deal with India, has negotiated a plea bargain with Italian prosecutors, conveying his willingness to get a reduced, 22-month prison sentence on charges of international corruption.
The plea bargain agreement is a shot in the arm for Italian investigators, who have been working for more than two years to prove that bribes worth 51 million euros were generated in the controversial 2010 contract to supply 12 VVIP choppers to the IAF, and has to be ratified by the courts.
It is expected to bolster the case being built by the prosecution that an amount of more than 20 million euros AgustaWestland has said it paid Haschke for “engineering consultations” was in fact meant to be diverted to India and Switzerland to be paid as bribes.
While India has cancelled the deal, the CBI is yet to file a chargesheet in the case even though an FIR was registered against the Italian middlemen, in which former Air Chief S P Tyagi was also named, in February last year.
Indian investigators, who attend all court hearings in Italy, are awaiting responses to their letters rogatories to three nations linked to the money trail of the alleged bribes. Several top officials, including Tyagi, have been questioned and more are to be called by the CBI after securing clearances from the Central government.
In a separate development in the Italian court, the prosecution has produced a handwritten note it claimed was recovered last year from the cell of jailed former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi. AgustaWestland is the Anglo-Italian subsidiary of Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica.
The note is addressed to an unidentified person and asks the person to get in touch with the then Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and request him to call “PM Singh” on his behalf. The note says, “Call Monti or (Italian ambassador to Britain) Ambassador Terracciano on my behalf to ask him to call the PM Singh”.
It has been produced by the prosecution as part of its case that the former CEO was highly connected in the Italian power circuit.
In a series of expedited hearings, Italian prosecutors have also built a strong case to debunk the arguments put forward by AgustaWestland that its two contracts with middlemen Haschke and Christian Michel that amounted to a total of 51 million euros were legitimate business proposals and were for engineering consultations, media management in India and buying back defunct choppers from Pawan Hans.
Orsi, Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland have all maintained that no bribes were paid and that all payments made to the alleged middlemen are valid transactions.
The plea bargain by Haschke, that will likely be agreed by the court on April 11, comes after several key witnesses told the court that payments made to the middlemen appear to be illegitimate and are not backed by any evidence that legitimate work was carried out against them.
The prosecution has produced several financial experts, including inspectors from the Italian national bank who have gone through the payments made by AgustaWestland to Haschke and Michel.
In the court on Wednesday and Thursday, the financial experts, it is learnt, said there is no paper trail or link or any evidence to prove that actual work was carried out by the middlemen for AgustaWestland in return for the payments.
The bills and invoices that had been cleared by the company were allegedly found to be mostly fictitious. Also, the prosecution has claimed that it was highly unusual for the CEO of the company to personally clear payments to consultants.
As reported by The Indian Express, Italian prosecutors had produced in court documents Michel had written to a top AgustaWestland executive claiming UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was the “driving force” behind the contract and had advised him to “target” her closest advisers.
The prosecutors had also asked Haschke in court in January if the abbreviation ‘AP’ in a “budget sheet” said to belong to the middlemen was a reference to Sonia’s key aide Ahmed Patel.
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