Records confirm tender was altered, allowing AgustaWestland to qualify
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In the first corroboration of the findings of the Italian probe into corruption allegations in the VVIP helicopter deal of 2010, it has emerged that critical technical requirements in the contract were tweaked by India, allowing Italian manufacturer AgustaWestland to enter the bidding competition.
In the first tender floated to acquire 12 helicopters for ferrying VVIPs, the Italian firm could not make the cut as it did not meet the requirement of being able to fly at 6,000 m. This, it has been found, was lowered drastically by the Defence Ministry in a second tender in 2006, helping the AW 101 chopper qualify.
This modification corroborates the events mentioned in the Italian investigation report. As reported by The Indian Express, the confession of a business associate of Guido Haschke, the alleged middleman in the deal, made before Italian prosecutors alleges that while the AW 101 did not qualify initially, technical requirements were tweaked after Haschke came into the picture and allegedly used his influence in India.
After the Defence Ministry first announced the technical requirements, only two helicopters qualified — the Russian Mi-17 and a Eurocopter model. Subsequently, the Russian aircraft was also disqualified on some other technical grounds, resulting in only one vendor remaining. After the Special Protection Group in charge of VVIP security redflagged this saying that the single-vendor situation would pose hurdles in procurement, the altitude requirements were tweaked to say the chopper should be able to fly at 4,500 m at least.
This change allowed AgustaWestland to present its AW 101 helicopter for the contract. As it turned out during the trials, the AW 101 managed to fly at 4,572 m. Its only competitor, Sikorsky, lost out as it could not perform optimally at the high altitude.
The Defence Ministry, which steered the acquisition, did not respond to a detailed questionnaire sent by The Indian Express. But officials claimed that the altitude requirements were changed as the earlier ones were too stringent and as a practical issue considering that VVIP choppers don't require to operate above 4,500 m. None of the helipads where VVIPs are expected to land is located above this altitude, officials said.