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This article is written by Vanya Verma, from Alliance University, Bangalore. This article talks about the facts of the VVIP chopper scam, people involved in the scam and the action taken by the Italian Court and other important factors related to the case. 


The VVIP chopper scam or the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam is a case of corruption where it was contended that bribes were paid to the middlemen and some politicians as well when twelve AgustaWestland helicopters which were manufactured by the giant Finmeccanica of Italian defence were India agreed to buy at an estimated cost of Rs. 3600 Crore.

It had been claimed that several parameters such as the operating ceiling, the maximum altitude the helicopter could fly and the height of the cabin of the helicopter were altered in order to help AgustaWestland. The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) is now investigating the VVIP chopper case.

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What is AgustaWestland?

In the year 2000 AgustaWestland was formed by a merger between Agusta (Finmeccanica’s subsidiary) and Westland Helicopter (GKN’s subsidiary). The specialisation of Agusta was in manufacturing commercial choppers and Westland was the only company that manufactured the UK’s military choppers. These companies developed  EH-101(aka AW-101), a military cum civil chopper in between Europe’s consolidation phase of the defence and aerospace industry. The motive of this merger was to produce new products that could be used for both military and civil purposes along with influencing each other geographically.

Key facts about the case

  • The ruling UPA government signed a contract in February 2010, to purchase 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for the amount of Rs 3,600 Cr. in order to carry the President, Prime Minister and other VVIPs.
  • In 2012, the scam came to the lead after it was discovered that several bureaucrats and politicians had allegedly accepted the bribe to swing the deal. The scam was first revealed in Italy.
  • It was decided by the Government In February 2013, to put the dealing on hold that was followed by the arrest of CEO of Agusta Westland Bruno Spagnolini and chairman of Finmeccanica Giuseppe Orsi on the charges that they had bribed the middle man in order to secure the deal with the IAF (Indian Air Force).
  • In the year 2014, the VVIP chopper deal with AgustaWestland was cancelled by the Congress-led UPA government on grounds of violation of the integrity pact. Most of the money has been recovered by the government that was paid for the contract to the Italian company. 
  • The role of the then PM Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former Defence Minister AK Antony and former IAF chief SP Tyagi in this big defence controversy was put to question.
  • A.K. Antony, India’s former Defence Minister on 25 March 2013, ascertained the allegations regarding corruption and stated: “Yes, corruption has taken place in the chopper deal and bribes have been taken”.

The investigation by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC)

A motion was introduced by the government of UPA-II on 27 February 2013, in the Rajya Sabha. The motion was regarding the investigation that was led by 30 members of JPC. After most of the opposition parties like BJP, Trinamool Congress, AGP, TDP, CPI, JD(U) walked out, the motion was passed. The leader of the opposition, Arun Jaitley said during the debate that JPC was a “diversionary tactic” and an “exercise in futility”. It was argued by Jaitley that various legal aspects were involved in the case such as custodial interrogation, extradition of accused foreigners and “none of these powers” are there with the JPC and thus it is ineffective in dealing with the case. Many of the opposition members urged to have an investigation monitored by the Supreme Court similar to the case of the 2G spectrum. Along with this opposition also demanded to issue Letter Rogatory (LR) and to establish a money trail. Initially, all the allegations were denied by the UPA government and claimed it has “nothing to hide” and that “our track record is not covered up.”

Main players in the AgustaWestland deal and charges against them

S P Tyagi, former Air Chief Marshal: On 9 December 2016, Tyagi was arrested in connection with the case. It was alleged by the CBI that the suggestion to reduce the operational ceiling of the helicopter to 4500m from the height of 6000m was given by Tyagi which brought AgustaWestland in the race.

It has been contended that the changes were strongly opposed by the IAF, but after Tyagi became the chief, he made these recommendations. 

Christian Michel: He is one among the three middlemen, the other two were Carlos Gerosa and Guido Haschke. AgustaWestland had allegedly hired them to swing the deal by influencing the officials in favour of the company. 

For this purpose, Michel had received about 42.27 million euros, as alleged by the CBI.

The companies of Michel and advocate Gautam Khitan had allegedly routed the bribes through layered transactions in the form of multiple contracts to conceal them.

In 2018, from the UAE Michel extradited to India. He asserted that the CBI team expected him to take the names of the Gandhi family, the agency denied this claim.

Julie, Docsa and Sandeep Tyagi: They are three brothers of SP Tyagi who were involved with directly receiving the bribe money that was routed through the company of Christian Michel that is Gufic Trading and also from IDS India and Aeromatrix, that are Chandigarh based companies. 

CEO of Aeromatrix – Praveen Bakshi: Aeromatrix is an Indian firm which provides engineering and design services to Finmeccanica. The payments were made for the work that was never done and the payments were routed through Aeromatrix that explains how Bakshi had a major role in the scam.

Chairman of IDS Infotech – Satish Bagrodia: The establishment of IDS Infotech and its subsidiary IDS Tunisia took place in order to provide AgustaWestland with the design and engineering services. Satish Bagrodia is the brother of Santosh Bagrodia who was former Union Minister. IDS India and IDS Tunisia were receiving the money for the work that was never done. Thus, it led to a strong suspicion that in order to route bribe money the company had been established. The Milan Court had named a few firms of India that include IDS and Aeronatrix which used to receive the bribe money.

Advocate Gautam Khaitan: Khaitan has been recognised as one of the main players who was involved in bringing the bribe money to India and paying subsequently to the people involved. Khaitan along with his assistant Arihant Jain was present at the Board of Directors at Aeromatrix. 

Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke: They both were the direct recipients of the bribe money that was being received from AgustaWestland and interacted with the Tyagi brothers for the chopper deal. They were present in Aeromatrix on the Board of Directors along with Gautam Khaitan and Arihant Jain. Jain had later resigned from the Board.

AK Anthony: The chopper deal was signed under Anthony’s watch in the year 2010. After initially denying he was forced to admit that there was corruption. Anthony now has to explain a lot of things as to how the technical specifications were altered and the rules broken by the government by placing an order with AgustaWestland, which was a trading company and not officially a manufacturing company.

Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel: The Italian Court in its judgement mentioned that one of the middlemen had mentioned the name of Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary Ahmed Patel as they were the ‘driving force’ behind the deal attributing to the fact that the deal had their involvement too.

The charge against UPA government was being directed by the BJP for the role of the UPA in the scam but it is only till the investigations in India are complete.

Why were the Indian officials bribed at all

The IAF in August 1998 realised that there was a necessity for replacing Mi-8 VIP helicopters as they were finishing their entire technical life and in addition to this, these helicopters were not able to safely operate in areas which had an elevation beyond 2000 meters and during the night as well. I’d strongly requested for a helicopter that could fly at a higher altitude at areas like Tiger Hill and Siachen. The essential requirement was up to what height the helicopter could fly. After the flight evaluation, Agusta Westland’s A-101 failed to make the list as it could fly at a height around 3,000 feet and not at  6000 feet and above and thus failed to fulfil the requirement.

In a report of CBI’s investigation, it has been said that the suggestion to lower the altitude was vehemently opposed by the IAF before SP Tyagi became the IAF chief. After Tyagi took over the position of chief the Air Force admitted to reducing height requirement and thus allowed AgustaWestland to re-enter the bidding process.

Recovery of Money

After the cancellation, the Indian government has recovered the amount of Rs. 1620 Crores (45% of total contract value ₹3600 crores), the amount it had paid to AgustaWestland.

Important points to be noted

  • The rules and requirements were kept on changing by the then defence minister to keep all the bidding companies out of the race except AgustaWestland.
  • The deal price was almost six times the initial agreement that was agreed to be final.
  • CBI registered a preliminary enquiry on 25 February 2013 against eleven people which included Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, his cousins and the former Indian Air Force Chief including four companies.
  • In February 2013, the contract was cancelled after it came out that the amount of Rs. 360 Crore was paid as a bribe. The contract had been cancelled because the Congress wanted to save itself as the 2014 elections were near and then it would have become difficult for them to conceal the money trail.
  • On 13 March, the FIR was registered after the CBI found sufficient evidence. There were 13 names on the FIR: former Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, his three brothers- Docsa, Sandeepand, Juli, Pratap Aggarwal who is Chairman and Managing Director of IDS Infotech and Satish Bagrodia (brother of former Union minister Santosh Bagrodia). The name of four companies was also mentioned in the FIR, the companies were-  FIR also named four companies that were  Chandigarh-based IDS Infotech and Aeromatrix, Italy-based Finmeccanica, and UK-based AgustaWestland.
  • In 2013 itself it came out that Abhishek Verma who is a billionaire dealer in Indian arms along with his Romanian wife Anca Neacsu were also suspects in the scam. Abhishek Verma played the role of a middleman in the deal and had helped the politicians in ensuring CCS approval from the Cabinet Committee. 
  • Some part of the bribe money was also sent to the companies owned by Abhishek Verma. The companies were Atlas Defence System in Mauritius, Bermuda accounts of Atlas Group Ltd, rest of the money was sent to the Abbishek’s wife front company, Ganton Limited situated in New York Ganton Limited. It was suspected that this bribe money was being sent to the Indian politicians who were part of this scandal.
  • The ED (Enforcement Directorate) and the CBI had sent letters rogatory to 8 countries that include Italy, Mauritius, Switzerland, Singapore, Tunisia, UK, UAE and the British Virgin Islands.
  • On 9 December 2016, former Air Force Chief, SP Tyagi was arrested by the CBI. The CBI also arrested Tyagi’s brother Sanjeev Tyagi and Advocate Gautam Khaitan. 
  • In September 2017, a charge-sheet was filed by the CBI against ten people that included S.P. Tyagi.
  • On 5 December 2018, Christian Michel was extradited from Dubai to India.
  • On 31 January 2019, Rajeev Saxena, another co-accused along with lobbyist Deepak Talwar were extradited from Dubai to India.

The investigation by the Italian Court

In October 2014, the Italian court acquitted SP Tyagi of all the corruption charges against him along with Giuseppe Orsi, former CEO of Finmeccanica and Bruno Spagnolini, former head of AgustaWestland of the charges against them of international corruption. However, they were convicted by the court on the lesser charge for two years of imprisonment for “false invoicing” in the case.

On 8th April 2016, in 225-page judgement, the Milan Court of Appeal reversed the verdict of the lower court and Giuseppe Orsi, the former chief executive was convicted for corruption charges and was sentenced to imprisonment for four and a half years. 

Bruno Spagnolini, former head of AgustaWestland was also sentenced to imprisonment for four years.

The two executives were ordered by the Court to pay a sum of Rs. 7.5 million euros ($8.5 million), which was considered to be paid in bribes.

On 16 December 2016, the Supreme Court of Italy (Corte di Cassazione) revoked the guilty verdict of the Milan Court of Appeal and ordered for a retrial in a different Court of Appeal in Milan. 

On 8 January 2018, after nine months of proceedings, finally the third Milan Court of Appeal declared that the defendants are clear of all the charges against them and were dismissed by the Court on the ground of insufficient evidence to support the allegations by the Prosecution. 

On 22 May 2019, after the failure to have a recourse by the Milan General Prosecutor’s office that was supported by the Attorney General, the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court of Cassazione

Investigation in Indian Courts

The VVIP chopper case is still going on in the Court since the year 2016.


The bribe was involved in the VVIP chopper deal and it has been proved in the Court of law and even the rules were broken. The scam involved ministers from the UPA government, middlemen, bureaucrats and servicemen. Evidence is being gathered by Indian agencies from foreign countries and various other sources. The investigating agencies are focussing on finding out all the bribe makers. The current NDA government is putting political pressure on the Congress for its involvement in the scam. The proper investigation is a technical process and will take time. 


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