It seems the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland helicopter deal, signed by the UPA government in February 2010, is the flavour of the election season for only one reason — the government's unenviable record is being sought to be covered up through an unreasonable attack on its principal opponent. After the contract for 12 helicopters was signed, Italian prosecutors alleged wrongful payments to Indian entities.
In February 2013, the Italians arrested the CEO of Finmeccanica, the parent company of A-W. Following this, then defence minister A.K. Antony ordered a CBI investigation.
In January 2014, under Mr Antony’s supervision, the defence ministry cancelled the contract. By June 2014, all the payments made by the Indian side (about 45 per cent of the total contracted amount) had been recovered. Finally, there was no deal.
But the Italian legal system was not done yet. After all, high-level Indian personalities were alleged to have been paid off, including a former IAF chief, top bureaucrats, and political personalities all the way to the top tier that included the circle around Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.
In April 2016, the Milan Court of Appeal overturned a lower court's conviction of four years' imprisonment for the Finmeccanica CEO. In December the same year, the Italian Supreme Court ordered a re-trial. Also in December, the CBI arrested former IAF chief S.P. Tyagi and subsequently filed a charge-sheet against him and nine others, possibly taking a cue from the Italian “re-trial” directive. On January 8, 2018, however, the third Court of Appeals in Milan acquitted all the defendants of all charges on ground of there not being adequate evidence of wrongdoing. The CBI or the Indian government did not judicially respond to the Italian verdict.
Yet, last December, India got the UAE to deport Christian Michel, who is apparently involved in the arms trade as an intermediary, and the man is in custody, undergoing rigorous examination by the Enforcement Directorate. Mr Michel was among those acquitted in Italy in the A-W case. The ED has drawn up a chargesheet against this British national and has leaked it to the media. The point of the leak is to target Congress leader Ahmed Patel, a long-time secretary to Ms Gandhi. The ED has contended that his name has been suggested by Mr Michel during interrogation, which the latter's lawyer has vigorously denied in court.
In a large number of shocking cases related to terrorism — and other matters — following years of investigation and interrogation, the government agencies have not been able to prove their case against accused persons, and have had to face humiliation in court. Yet — and this is the shock — top leaders of the ruling dispensation think nothing of bandying about in public the unproven police version, even before the court has looked at it, in the hope that the mud will stick.