NDA changed specs, UPA implemented them: MoD

The Defence ministry Thursday made public details of the process that led to key changes in the technical requirements of the VVIP helicopter deal and said the decision to make the changes was taken in 2003 when the NDA was in power.

However, it also said that these changes were effected in 2005-06 when the UPA was in charge. The explanation note from the ministry came in response to allegations by Italian investigators earlier this week that business conglomerate Finmeccanica paid bribes to then IAF chief S P Tyagi to tweak the parameters to help its AgustaWestland choppers qualify for the bidding.

Tyagi has denied the allegations, first reported by The Indian Express, and has demanded an investigation.

The MoD note says that a decision to change the altitude requirements of the chopper — a key factor according to the Italian probe — was taken at a meeting on November 19, 2003 by then national security adviser Brajesh Mishra to avoid a single-vendor situation and to expand the search for a new chopper.

It says that the actual changes in the qualitative requirements were carried out between March 2005 and September 2006, after discussions between various stakeholders.

"Operational requirements were deliberated at length between IAF, NSA, SPG/PMO and MoD between March 2005 to September 2006 and the above indicated changes (as suggested by Mishra in 2003) were incorporated (sic)," the note says.

Tyagi had also said on Wednesday that the requirements were changed in 2003 on the directions of Mishra. But he had also said that no changes were made when he headed the force from 2004 to 2007.

The MoD note does not explain the two-year gap between the time the changes were agreed upon when the NDA was in power and their actual implementation. It says the Acceptance of Necessity (AON) - a formal document authorizing the purchase - was given in January 2006.

The Italian investigation report has said that AgustaWestland paid bribes after a middleman claimed he could fix the technical requirements to favour the entry of the helicopter manufacturer for the Rs 3,546-crore contract.

In his confession statement to Italian prosecutors, the Swiss-based middleman Guido Haschke has said that when he first arranged a meeting between Finmeccanica officials and Tyagi in early 2005, the specifications for the deal required the helicopter to be capable of flying at an altitude of 18,000 ft.

Haschke has also said that the first time he met Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi in 2005, the changes had not been done. "The first meeting with Orsi (Spring 2005) happened when the operational ceiling had not yet been lowered. This is what I can remember today," Haschke has said.

He also claims that over the next few months, he met Tyagi several times and the then Air Chief told him in one of these meetings that the requirements for the chopper were being lowered soon.

"Tyagi informed us that the operational ceiling would be lowered. Carlo and I thanked him for coming to the office. The meeting was very short. I don't remember exactly if the operational ceiling was lowered before or after summer 2005," the middleman has said.

Haschke has also spoken of another meeting in 2006, when he says the requirements had been relaxed. "During this meeting we spoke about the technical specifications of the AW101 helicopters. The operational ceiling had already been lowered," he has said.

According to the Italian investigation report, the middlemen were first paid by Finmeccanica in 2005 to try and get the specifications changed and regular payoffs in the form of phoney engineering contracts started from 2007 and continued at least until 2011.

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