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RAM JETHMALANI
ETHICS & POWER

Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.

Is UPA serious about finding the guilty?

This scam offers a multi-media crash course to the nation on money laundering, which continues unabated.

Finmeccanica chairman and chief executive officer, Giuseppe Orsi poses in a helicopter during the opening ceremony of a new terminal of Vertiporto dell’Urbe in Rome on 19 January, 2009. Orsi has inherited a corruption crisis of an over $750 million helico

fter a very short break, it's scandal time again for the UPA. The government had in 2010 signed a deal worth over Rs 3,800 crore to buy 12 helicopters for use by VVIPs, from Agusta Westland, an arm of Italian company Finmeccanica. Interestingly, the deal was clinched after the 2005 visit of then Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, which after meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was used for an "under-the-radar meeting between then Air chief S.P. Tyagi and Finmeccanica officials".

The Agusta Westland deal is being called Bofors 2. But Agusta Westland is a trifle different, and far surpasses Bofors in its planning, networking, execution and end use. The first information about it, like in Bofors, came from Europe, in this case Italy. But unlike the Bofors scam, there were already serious investigations going on about Finmeccanica and Agusta Westland before Italian courts, long before the news hit the Indian media and public.

The investigation was apparently triggered by in-house Finmeccanica rivalries, between its previous head Francesco Guarguaglini, and his successor, Giuseppe Orsi (now under arrest). After the ouster of Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government, another former Finmeccanica employee, Lorenzo Borgogni, who had fallen out with Orsi, decided to spill the beans. He provided detailed statements regarding the identities of the middlemen and the distribution of kickbacks paid by Agusta to Indians, totalling 51 million euro. As reported in La Repubblica in February 2012, Borgogni told prosecutors that slush funds were generated after a "sudden" escalation of price by 10 million euro per helicopter in 2010. The Indian government bought 12 choppers and paid 120 million euro extra.

Bit by bit, these names have been surfacing in our media. The Indian public is being introduced to the deep, subterranean network of defence middlemen who flourish in our capital, merrily swinging deals, luring defence and police seniors, bureaucrats and politicians, least afraid of Indian law that prohibits middlemen or payment of commission in defence contracts. The names of Haschke, Gerosa and Christian Michel will soon become household names like Ottavio Quattrocchi. This scam also offers a multi-media crash course to the nation on money laundering that continues unabated, and the shadowy alleys of defence deals, ghost off-shore companies, front companies, bogus engineering contracts, tweaking technical specifications and field trials, political and governmental connivance, and money trails traversing continents.

But what is really novel about Borgogni's information is that at least 10 million euro was reportedly funnelled back to Italy and paid to the Lega Nord party (which was a partner in Berlusconi's coalition) in return for its support to Orsi's bid to become president of Finmeccanica. Silvio Berlusconi, himself a leader in political corruption and other excesses, has been handsomely supportive of his good friend Orsi and went to the extent of condoning his actions of bribery and kickbacks. This is what he says, "Bribes ... are not crimes. We're talking about paying a commission to someone in that country... Why, because those are the rules in that country. The fact that there is risk of [Italian] magistrates intervening I consider to be economic suicide." Well, Berlusconi wants to have an influential voice after the general election due in Italy next week, and would appreciate Indian money reaching his ally the Lega Nord through his good offices, the cooperation of his friend Orsi, and the humungous influence of the Italian segment of Indian governance. Is that the reason why the Italian law enforcement agencies are so concerned about the kickbacks from India? And my fellow citizens, please note, our money illegally siphoned out of our country is not merely being used for personal enrichment of the agents, as was the case during the Bofors era, but is being injected into the political system of Italy, so as to support a political party to keep the exploitative partnership between the two countries and Italian imperialism alive. This is the unprecedented, innovative contribution of the present scam where it surpasses the Bofors scam. If it is a fact that Indian money is being used to fund elections in Italy, then in political theory and economics, it would imply that India has been reduced to a colony of Italy. I'm sure if an economist does a study of the amount of money looted from India and stashed in offshore accounts by the UPA government, and channelled through various economies, not Indian, it will far exceed whatever the British exploited from us.

Here's another matter about the Agusta scam that is deeply disturbing. An agreement has been seized that discusses the division of the kickbacks of 52 million euro between Guido Haschke and Christian Michel. Michel agrees to cut his commission by 2 million euro to accommodate the demand of Haschke and "the family".

Questions upon questions are emerging. Why did the government sit quiet for almost a year after the Italian investigations began, with Defence Minister A.K. Antony actually certifying in Parliament that everything was fine with the deal? Salman Khurshid has novel answers for this, that cancelling the deal would "affect our defence preparedness". How did VVIP helicopters that even the US could not afford, have anything to do with defence preparedness is of course something he cannot explain.

Let me now summarise the incriminating circumstantial evidence:

1. The helicopter purchase is obviously not for the defence of the country, but for use of some VIPs.

2. Do we need such expensive toys for our already-pampered elite of the elite?

3. There is no evidence indicating transparency: global tenders were not invited. That itself is a serious criminal offence of every public servant who participated in this purchase agreement.

5. The price was suddenly increased by 10 million euro per helicopter. Who initiated this increase, who negotiated and who finally approved to make virtually a gift to Italy of the aam admi's tax paid money? This is a horrendous criminal breach of trust, for which all participants in this deal, high or low, must submit to custodial interrogation, something the CBI invariably insists for lesser mortals.

6. The involvement of "the family" is reportedly established through seized documents. Who are they? What efforts is government making to disclose their identity?

I entreat the Prime Minister, please don't hoodwink the nation by the government's routine response that the CBI and the JPC will go into these matters. The nation has had enough of them. We have seen their record in protecting national interest in the Bofors case. Let there be an SIT herein demanded. The BJP has made a sound demand for it.

 
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