Can't blame ex-IAF chief in chopper scam: Jaswant Singh

The former air chief has rubbished allegations that he was paid a bribe to swing the approximately Rs.3600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal.

NEW DELHI: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh said blaming former Air Chief SP Tyagi for the AgustaWestland copter scam is not correct, and demanded a probe in the matter.

"I am sad that the accused in this is an Italian company. It seems that we have forgotten them. What we are focusing on is only what did the chief do," Singh said.

"The Air Chief Marshal is a distinguished retired officer. We should not casually denigrate these higher officers of the armed forces," he added.

Emphasizing that the extent of scam in Italy is bigger than in India, Singh said a thorough probe must be conducted into the entire matter so that all hidden facts are cleared and the truth comes out.

The former air chief has rubbished allegations that he was paid a bribe to swing the approximately Rs.3600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, which involved procuring twelve choppers from the Italian firm Finmeccanica.

Expressing his shock and disbelief over his name being involved in the scam, Air Chief Marshal (Retired) Tyagi said: "These allegations are totally baseless and I am denying them categorically."

"The deal was signed in 2010, whereas I retired in 2007 itself. All changes in requirements and specifications have to be approved by Ministry of Defence," Tyagi told media here yesterday, while countering allegations that the tender for the helicopters may have been tweaked under his influence.

"The tender was issued at my time, but no specifications were changed in my tenure," he added.

Asked about his relations with three alleged middlemen for the deal, including one 'former IAF officer identified as Captain Tyagi', the former IAF chief said the officer concerned was his cousin, but added that their relationship did not go beyond this.

Amid sharp criticism from the opposition parties, the Congress-led UPA Government yesterday promised that the guilty would not be spared in the scandal involving bribery in the acquisition of expensive helicopters for use by VVIPs.

Yesterday, India has suspended payments to Italian defence group Finmeccanica SpA for a $750 million helicopter deal and won't take delivery of more aircraft until the completion of a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into bribery allegations, a defence ministry source told Reuters.

Italian police arrested Finmeccanica's chief executive Giuseppe Orsi on Tuesday for alleged bribes paid to secure the sale of 12 AgustaWestland executive helicopters to the Indian Air Force, when he was head of the Finmeccanica helicopter unit. Orsi's lawyer denied the allegations.

The former head of India's Air Force, S.P. "Shashi" Tyagi, and three of his cousins are among the Indians named in the arrest warrant for Orsi. All say they are innocent.

The defence minister said he had ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the purchase of the luxury helicopters destined for use by India's political leadership. He said that if the allegations are proven to be true, the company would be blacklisted and those involved punished.

"If any individual or foreigner, any firm are involved in this malpractice, nobody will be spared. We will take action against them, whatever may be the consequences," he told reporters on Wednesday. Three helicopters have already been delivered.

Coming at a time of cuts in defence procurement spending, the latest scandal could lead to additional scrutiny and delays for defence deals in the works.

"I am sure that there will be initial setback, but we will overcome that. That is not the main thing. The main thing is that we cannot allow corruption in defence deals," Antony said when asked about the impact on weapons modernisation.

The arrests in Italy came as Finmeccanica unit Alenia Aermacchi was preparing to compete for a contract to supply over 50 military transport aircraft to India in competition with European aerospace group EADS.

The military arm of EADS subsidiary Airbus told Reuters last week it would offer its C295 military transport plane, adding that manufacturers were waiting for a formal competition document from the Indian government.

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