Augusta Westland Case: Former air force chief S P Tyagi defends himself at court

IAF ex-chief moves bail plea, remanded to judicial custody.

New Delhi, Dec 10: It was on May 2 when the retired Air Chief Marshal Sashindra Singh Pal Tyagi was summoned by CBI as part of the investigation on Augusta Westland case. It was rarest of the rare occurrence where a defence officer, serving or retired was summoned on the charges of corruption.

S P Tyagi, along with his cousin Sanjeev alias Julie Tyagi and lawyer-businessman Gautam Khaitan were arrested by the CBI Friday in connection with the Rs 3,600-crore Agusta Westland VVIP helicopter deal case.

According to CBI officials the former IAF chief marshal during the interrogations made some crucial revelations on the bribery case. The most important among them was that he met middlemen Haschke and Gerosa during his tenure serving as vice-chief of air force and then the chief.

The CBI suspects that Thyagi was the man who manipulated the specifications on the machines in helicopter contract. He lowered the maximum height from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres.

According to CBI, Tyagi brothers Sandeep, Sanjeev and Rajeev got paid 4,00,000 euros from Haschke and Gerosa. Of this, 100,000 euros was paid in cash. “There is really no connection, because it was paid in cash,” one of the middlemen Haschke gloated in a conversation wiretapped by Italian police.

Charges of corruption against the Tyagi family were first made in 2013 by Italian prosecutors who investigated the case. The 225-page judgement of the Milan appellate court is peppered with references to ‘Marshal Tyagi’, the air chief and to the ‘Family Tyagi’, his three cousins, and to ‘the team’-code for middlemen Haschke, Gerosa and Michel.

The plan, according to the Italian investigation, was to show the bribe as payments for engineering services done by Aeromatrix Info Solutions of Chandigarh. The money was routed through front companies in various countries-Tunisia, Mauritius and finally Chandigarh.

Marco Maiga, the judge who passed  the conviction order in Milan  pointed that Tyagis were involved in the crime. The story, he says, began when Sanjeev ‘Julie’ Tyagi contacted Haschke, an arms agentin India, around 2004, and asked him if he had any contacts with helicopter manufacturers. Haschke introduced him to AgustaWestland executives, kickstarting what would become the infamous case.

However, Tyagi has denied all allegations levelled against him. “I am innocent. These allegations are totally baseless and I am denying them categorically. You can even check my bank balance,” he said in the court.

In a rare interview with the Indian Express in 2006, Mr. Tyagi said he was pressing the government to “order more aircraft.”

“We absolutely have to increase the number of aircraft. Our only option is to get something in a hurry. We are looking to order more aircraft of the types we already operate and have told the government,” said Mr. Tyagi at the time.

Born in Indore in the state of Madhya Pradesh on March 14, 1945, Mr. Tyagi joined the air force when he was 18 as a fighter pilot, straight after graduating from his high school in Jaipur.

Two years later, he fought for India against Pakistan, a war started over the disputed region of Kashmir. Mr. Tyagi, who was also involved in the 1971 conflict with Pakistan, went on to have a glowing career in the air force, leading three out its seven operational divisions.

Mr. Tyagi also spent some time in Saudi Arabia as Defense Attaché in the Indian consulate.

For his contribution to the Indian armed forces, Mr. Tyagi has received several military awards in recent decades. They include the Ati Vishisht Seva medal in 1994 and the Param Vishisht Seva medal in 2003.

His official air force profile describes him as an “enthusiastic sky-diver.” He is married and has two children.