The 2005 visit of then Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi served as a watershed for the VVIP chopper deal, because while he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the event was used for an under-the-radar meeting between then Air Chief S P Tyagi and Finmeccanica officials, that was organised by the middleman named in an Italian probe into the contract.
Less than a month after the meeting — in which the chopper deal as well as the need for a change in technical specifications was allegedly discussed — the chopper deal got a vital push, with the government starting the process of firming up the technical requirements for the machine, as is detailed in a defence ministry statement on the contract.
In his confession before the Italian court, middleman Guido Haschke has said that he was part of the official Italian delegation that came in February 2005 and arranged a meeting between Tyagi and Finmeccanica officials by using his contact with Julie Tyagi, a close relative of the former air chief.
He said that the tender for the choppers, which was yet to be issued, was discussed in the meeting and till that point, the technical requirements had not been changed to reduce the service ceiling to 15,000 feet from the earlier 18,000 feet, a specification that disallowed AgustaWestland from taking part in the competition.
“The meeting happened at the Air HQ and went very well, this is what Zappa (Finmeccanica executive) told me. Also Julie gave a positive feedback about the meeting. With this I mean that from both sides I understood that the condition for which AgustaWestland could participate in the yet-to-be-issued tender had been discussed. I specify that the operational ceiling was not lowered on that occasion but later,” Haschke said in his statement.
As per the defence ministry’s official statement, the formal process of firming up the technical specifications for the contract started barely a month after this meeting in March 2005. The statement said that the operational requirements for the contract “were deliberated at length between IAF, NSA, SPG/ PMO and MoD between March, 2005 to September, 2006”.
This clearly reveals that till March 2005, the technical requirements for the contract had not been revised to lower the service ceiling requirements and the move to revise these only took place after Tyagi’s meeting with Finmeccanica officials. In its defence, the government has said that a policy