New Delhi, Feb 13 (PTI): The former chief of the Indian Air Force, retired Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi, on Wednesday denied allegations that he was paid bribes to swing a Rs 3,600-crore deal for procuring 12 choppers from Italian firm Finmeccanica to ferry VVIPS.
“I am innocent. These allegations are totally baseless and I am denying them categorically. The deal was signed in 2010 whereas I retired in 2007 itself,” he said.
Asked if he had changed any specifications for the contract to favour Finmeccanica, Tyagi said the “staff qualitative requirements for the VVIP choppers were frozen in 2003, much before I assumed the office of Chief of Air Staff, and the IAF did not change any requirements after that.”
Asked about his relations with three alleged middlemen for the deal including one 'former IAF officer Captain Tyagi', the former Chief said he was his cousin but their relationship did not go beyond this.
Reports suggested that Italian investigators have alleged in a preliminary inquiry submitted in an Italian court that business conglomerate Finmeccanica bribed S P Tyagi when he was the IAF chief to swing the controversial AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal in favour of the company.
After Tuesday’s arrest of Finmeccanica's head in Italy in connection with the controversial deal, the Defence Ministry here ordered a CBI probe into the charges.
“I have been hit by a thunderstorm,” Tyagi told reporters on allegations that the Italian company had bribed him to swing the chopper deal in its favour.
The Italian company is suspected of paying bribes of about Rs 362 crore in India to get orders for the helicopters.
The Ministry of Defence also decided to put on hold the receipt of the remaining nine of the 12 helicopters for which the Rs 3600 crore deal was struck in 2010.
“There is smoke,” Tyagi said while favouring a probe into the deal. “When I became the Air chief in 2004 and in 2007, I retired, during that period no changes were made.
“According to my information, nothing was done which raises a suspicion from my side. But it is true if there are so many reports, then there is something in it.
“There should be an inquiry so that all the facts come out. I am not only ready for an inquiry but I want an inquiry,” he said.
Asked about the alleged involvement of three of his relatives, he said, “The fact is they are related to me. But there are no business links (as alleged) with them....We were really not in touch when I was in service”.
“Tender was issued during my tenure but the charge is that the company which got the tender, AugustaWestland they may not have been able to compete if the requirements would not have been changed. For these matters only somebody will bribe me.
“So I want to tell you two-three things - Air Headquarters cannot change requirements. It is not a general store, there is a system. The system is Air Headquarters can recommend but cannot approve,” the former Air chief said.
Maintaining that there were no changes between 2004 and 2007, he said: “If you remember in 2000, the Defence Minister was George Fernandes, he use to go to Siachen and other places. So it was thought that VIPS would go to Siachen. So till 18000 feet the plane should operate.”
“If Prime Minister accompanies them, SPG will also go. His PS will also go. So what should be its weight and other technicalities. So I don't know about these things. But there was a talk about 18,000 feet. When in 2000 tender action was taken they got to know that nobody in the world builds a plane that operates at 18,000 feet only. In the entire world, a French plane was there which could operate at 18,000 ft,” he said.
In 2003, Government said it is not proper. SPG said cabin weight of the copter is low and they will not be able to stand in it, he said, adding that the SPG wanted to be involved in the selection process.
These changes were made in 2003 before he took over, Tyagi said.
“After that I know only this much that SPG and Defence Minister had a lot of correspondence on the kinds of fittings in the plane for example SPG wanted to install an armour plate but we said plane will not fly because it will be heavy. It will become a tank,” he said.
Tyagi said there was no question of lobbying because there was competition.
“It was not a single company. We thought it was an expensive plane ....may be it will not win the competition,” he said.
The former Air Chief said, “There is no doubt that there is a suspicion on me.”
“There should be a inquiry and facts should come out in public. My relatives denied the allegations. They said we had business dealings with them but we have not seen the Defence Ministry,” he said.