Records confirm tender was altered, allowing AgustaWestland to qualify

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.

As reported earlier, in a detailed testimony before the judicial authority of Naples, a business associate of Haschke had explained how he put Haschke and his partner Gerosa in touch with AgustaWestland in 2006 to facilitate the Indian contract.

In the 568-page investigation report a copy of which is with The Indian Express the associate, business consultant Carmelo Messina, says Haschke was keen to get in touch with AgustaWestland as he "claimed he had deep knowledge of the Indian market, which he developed with his partner Carlo Gerosa".

Messina, who was also in touch with top AgustaWestland officials, said the company figured out after the contact was made that its choppers would not qualify for the contract.

"They came to know that actually the helicopters AgustaWestland could offer were not compatible with the technical features of the helicopters the Indian Ministry of Defence was looking for and that would have been the object of the future tender," Messina has said.

The confession says Haschke then managed to get the requirements changed to accommodate the Italian company's product.

"He told me that he managed to convince the Indians, or actually the Ministry of Defence, to reconsider the features of the helicopters so that Italian helicopters too could take part in the tender," Messina says in the confession. "After doing some evaluations, it was found that Haschke was right and that the Indian Ministry of Defence had really modified the technical features of the helicopters it needed so that AgustaWestland could participate."

Only three companies AgustaWestland, Russia's Kazan and American Sikorsky took part in the final RFP sent in 2006. While the Russians were disqualified apparently after not including the earnest money in their response, trials were held over the next two years on the AgustaWestland and Sikorsky machines before the contract was finally bagged by the Italians in 2010.

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