2013 Indian helicopter bribery scandal

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India signed a contract in February 2010 for 12 AgustaWestland AW101 VVIP helicopters

In early 2013, an Indian parliamentary investigation began into allegations of bribery and corruption involving several senior officials and helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland surrounding the purchase of a new fleet of helicopters. The scandal has been referred to as the Chopper scam, or Choppergate by elements of the media and popular press.[1]

Several Indian politicians and military officials have been accused of accepting bribes from AgustaWestland in order to win the 36 billion (US$530 million) Indian contract for the supply of 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters; these helicopters are intended to perform VVIP duties for the President of India and other important state officials.[2] Ahmed Patel political secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi is alleged by Italian prosecutors to have received kickbacks from the deal.[3] A note dating back to 15 March 2008 presented in the Italian court also indicates that Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP chopper purchase. And it further asks middleman Peter Hulett to target key advisors to Sonia Gandhi and lists the names of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ahmed Patel, Pranab Mukherjee, M. Veerappa Moily, Oscar Fernandez, M. K. Narayanan, Vinay Singh. The note also contains the bribes to be paid out divided as, "AF" €6 Million, "BUR" €8.4 Million, "Pol" €6 Million and "AP" €3 Million.[4][5][6]

On 25 March 2013, India's Defence Minister A.K. Antony confirmed corruption allegations by stating : "Yes, corruption has taken place in the helicopter deal and bribes have been taken. The CBI is pursuing the case very vigorously".[7] As of June 2014, Indian government has recovered a total amount of 2068 crore[8] and has recovered the entire amount of around 1620 (45% of total contract value 3600 crore) it had paid to AgustaWestland.[9]

However, it has to be noted that the Italian Court investigating the case, acquitted S.P. Tyagi of all charges in an October 2014 verdict. The Italian prosecution also shelved its case of graft charges against Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland. This has led to questions arising if there was a scam at all.[10] The court cases in India are still running as of 2016.


India signed a contract to purchase 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters in February 2010 for the Communication Squadron of Indian Air Force, to carry the president, PM and other VVIPs. Controversy over the contract came to light on 12 February 2013, with the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland's parent company by Italian authorities;[11] the following day Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony ordered a probe into the contract.[12] A chandigarh based company, IDS infotech was used for routing kickbacks to India.[13] The role of Satish Bargodia (brother of ex-Union Minister Santosh Bargodia) who is also the director of the company is being investigated. In 2005 just few years before the scam Pratap Agarwal brought son of Satish Bargodia as it's director. It is alleged that using the political connection of Satish, IDS a rather unknown firm managed to bag such a huge deal [14]

This is not the first time that business ventures of Santosh Bagrodia’s brothers have landed him in controversy. In the coal block allocation scam, allegations were leveled against Santosh Bagrodia over a Rs. 600-crore mining contract awarded by a unit of state-owned Coal India Limited during his tenure in the coal ministry to Cuprum Bagrodia, a company of another of his brothers, Vinod. Santosh was coal minister between April 2008 and May 2009.[14]


After a huge controversy and allegations of corruption,[15][16] Defence Minister A.K. Antony, on 12 February, ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).[17][18]

On 25 February 2013, CBI registered a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) against 11 persons, including the former Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, and his cousins, besides four companies.[19] After carrying out the preliminary enquiry, the CBI found sufficient evidence and registered an FIR on 13 March. The FIR named 13 persons including: former Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, his three brothers: Juli, Docsa and Sandeep, brother of former Union minister Santosh Bagrodia, Satish Bagrodia, Pratap Aggarwal (Chairman and Managing Director of IDS Infotech). The FIR also named four companies - Italy-based Finmeccanica, UK-based AgustaWestland and Chandigarh-based IDS Infotech and Aeromatrix.[20][21]

In September 2015, a special CBI court issued an open non-bailable warrant (NBW) against Christian Michel based on CBI that he was needed to be questioned in the case to know how much amount he had received as "commission" in the deal. The CBI said that "Based on this arrest warrant, the Interpol India would be requested to issue a Red Corner Notice against Christian Michel James and execute the said warrant,".[22]

Enforcement Directorate (ED) is investigating money laundering allegations. In March 2015, the ED traced and identified the properties worth around 1.12 crore owned by Christian Michel and issued a provisional attachment order. The ED claimed that Michel bought a flat in south Delhi's Safdarjung Enclave in the name of media firm Media Exim using the bribe money. He was also reportedly in possession of a luxury car and a Fixed Deposit of 54 lakh. In September 2015, the adjudicating authority confirmed the attachment of properties and allowed the agency to retain the properties.[23] In September 2015, the ED attached assets worth about 7 crore alleged to be in the name of family members of ex-IAF chief S P Tyagi.[24]

The CBI and the ED have sent letters rogatory to as many as 8 countries including Italy, Tunisia,[25] Mauritius, UAE, UK, Switzerland, Singapore and British Virgin Islands.[22][26]

Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) investigation[edit]

On 27 February 2013, UPA-II Government introduced a motion in Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Parliament of India) for an investigation led by a 30-member Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The motion was passed after a walkout by most of the opposition parties like BJP, JD(U), Trinamool Congress, CPI, TDP and AGP.[27][28] During the debate, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley said the JPC was an "exercise in futility" and "diversionary tactic". He argued that the case involved various legal aspects such as extradition of accused foreigners and custodial interrogation and the JPC can have "none of these powers", leaving it ineffective. Many opposition members demanded Supreme Court-monitored investigation (on the similar lines of 2G spectrum scam). Demands were also made to establish money trail and issue Letter Rogatory (LR).[27]

The UPA government initially denied all allegations and claimed it has "nothing to hide" and that "our track record is not cover up".[27]

A complaint has been filed seeking an investigation into the sale of 21 civil helicopters worth over Rs 7,000 crore (US$1.6 billion) by AgustaWestland between 2005-2013 in India. As per the complaint Agusta Westland has been selling civil helicopters in India through its agent Sharp Ocean Investments Limited, which is promoted by twin brothers Nayan Jagjivan and Nakul Jagjivan. Tax authorities in India have been asked to probe the possibility of tax evasion by Sharp Ocean on the commission received for the sale of helicopters and foreign exchange deprivation to the country by off-shoring payments for the sale of helicopters in India.[29]

Separately, the Comptroller and Auditor General, in its latest report, has indicted the Chhattisgarh government for overpaying Rs.65 lakh (US$120,000) for the purchase of a VVIP chopper -an Agusta A-109 Power helicopter from Sharp Ocean Investment Ltd and its India representative, OSS Air Management.[30][31] Both companies are promoted by twin brothers Nayan Jagjivan and Nakul Jagjivan.

Cancellation of the contract by the Indian Government[edit]

India cancelled the 3,600 crore deal with AgustaWestland in January 2014. The government cancelled the contract "on grounds of breach of the Pre-contract Integrity Pact and the agreement by AWIL (AgustaWestland International Ltd)". The contract was frozen in February 2013 after allegations surfaced that Rs 360 crore was paid as bribe. [32]

Role of Union Law Ministry and Indian President in CBI probe[edit]

The CBI approached Union Law Ministry to record statements of M. K. Narayanan and B V Wanchoo in January 2014.[33] M K Narayanan and B V Wanchoo were West Bengal and Goa Governors respectively at the time of CBI's request. Their statements were considered vital as they were national security adviser and Special Protection Group (SPG) chief at the time of signing of contract with AgustaWestland. Their views were also considered before Indian Government signed the contract with AgustaWestland. However Kapil Sibal's Union Law ministry stonewalled CBI probe by rejecting CBI's request to examine them under the usual excuse of 'immunity'. The CBI therefore approached President Pranab Mukherjee to seek permission to examine ex-NSA and ex-SPG.[34] M. K. Narayanan and B V Wanchoo were questioned by CBI later in June 2014 & July 2014 respectively.[35][36]

Recovery of Bank Guarantee[edit]

After the cancellation of the contract, India encashed over 250 crore made by AgustaWestland as bank guarantee in the Indian banks in January 2014.[37] Separately, India requested the Italian government to retrieve the bank guarantee amount made by the firm in Italian banks which was more than €275 million (2364 crore).[38][39] On 17 March 2014, request made by India was rejected by an Italian court.[40] However, the appellate court, Milan reversed the lower court's judgement and upheld the claims of the Indian government.[41] Accordingly, in June 2014, Indian government encashed 1818 taking the total amount recovered so far to 2068.[8] With this, India has recovered the entire amount of around 1620 (45% of total contract value 3600 crore) it had paid to AgustaWestland.[9]

Acquittals by Italian Court[edit]

The Italian court investigating the case in October 2014, acquitted the ex-IAF chief S.P. Tyagi of all corruption charges.[10] It also acquitted the former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi and former AgustaWestland head Bruno Spagnolini of “charges of international corruption” .The court, however, convicted and sentenced them to two years in prison on the lesser charge of “false invoicing” in the case. [42]

In July 2014, the prosecution had shelved proceedings against Finmeccanica for alleged corruption. It was reported that the prosecution found the company had nothing to do with the alleged corruption. Quoting a statement by Finmeccanica, it said, “AgustaWestland has agreed to pay a fine, while reiterating it knew nothing about the alleged bribery.”

The case, however is still running in Indian courts as of 2016.


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