Expanding its probe into the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam,the CBI has registered a preliminary enquiry against a serving Brigadier of the Indian Army accused of trying to assist the Italian helicopter manufacturer in a separate deal for light utility helicopters.
The case has been registered following an Army request to the CBI to probe the matter after The Indian Express first reported that one of the documents recovered by the Italian investigators from an alleged middleman in the VVIP chopper deal referred to an Army deal for 197 light helicopters and named an officer who was in charge of the flight trials of the programme in 2010.
Source said that the officer,Brigadier V S Saini,has also been accused of helping Agusta in running their training programmes with the Indian forces for familiarisation during the process of the contract. While Agusta was subsequently disqualified from the tender following technical issues,the contract for light choppers to replace Armys ageing Cheetah fleet has not yet been finalised due to the accusation that the trial process may have been vitiated.
It is also learnt that a team led by Joint Secretary Upamanyu Chatterjee from MoD and a SP from CBI will attend the trial at the Milan court which is scheduled to start from June 19. With India becoming a party to the trial,the CBI is likely to get complete access to the documents submitted by the Italian prosecutors which will help them further to cement their case.
The CBI is also in the process of sending letter rogatories (LR) to three countries Italy,Tunisia and Mauritius seeking judicial assistance and evidence. In its LR which is pending before the home ministry,the CBI has sought questioning of the suspects arrested by Italian authorities,including alleged middlemen Guido Hascke and top Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland executives. The agency also said that they would seek voice samples for its cases to be proved before the Indian court.
The deal to procure 197 light helicopters has been hanging fire since the name of the Brigadier came up in the Italian investigations into the VVIP chopper deal last year. Italian investigators found a document that claimed that the Brigadier allegedly demanded a bribe of $5 million in 2010 to swing the contract in favour of AgustaWestland.
The highly confidential letter is part of an investigation report by Italian prosecutors and was allegedly seized along with other documents on April 23 last year. The letter claims that the Brigadier made contact after an orientation meeting in Bangalore on January 16,2010 and volunteered information on the progress of the contract. It alleged that the Brigadier gave details on the deficiencies found in all three competitors for the tender Russias Kamov,Italian Agusta Westland and the Eurocopter and asked for money to favour the trials for Agusta.