Friday, December 07, 2018

As CBI grills Michel, IAF in a fix over Agusta choppers

Investigating agencies may be excited about bringing alleged middleman of AgustaWestland chopper scam Christian Michel to India after a long legal and diplomatic battle. But the Indian Air Force headquarters has a different worry. Three AW101 VVIP choppers, which were delivered to the IAF as part of 12 chopper deal with Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, have been occupying a valuable space at the Palam technical airport for the last four years. The IAF had no option but to mothball them till the government takes any decision on the issue. Moreover, the original equipment manufacturer had also refused to provide any support to the IAF on the issue, as the matter has been entangled in legal battle.

"Yes. All three choppers are parked at the IAF's station in Delhi. It is upto the company to decide on the issue. The matter is under arbitration between the company and the Indian government. But the MoD has already recovered the bank guarantees of over Rs 2,000 crore given by the firm for violating the integrity clause," said an official, privy to the development.
India had signed the deal to ferry VVIP helicopters for Rs 3,600 crore in 2010. But after bribery allegations, on January 2014, the then defence minister A.K. Antony scrapped the contract.
IAF headquarters’ Communication Squadron, which looks after the transport of VVIPs, including the president, prime minister and the vice president, was to get these 12 choppers to replace its ageing fleet of Mi8 choppers.
The three choppers were delivered to the IAF between December 2012 and January 2013. But, the IAF has never used any of these choppers to ferry VVIPs. The air force had even trained some of its pilots on these choppers in the United Kingdom as part of the contract clause, in anticipation of using these choppers. A seven-member crew, including a pilot and technical staff, were earlier given task to look after these choppers. But since these choppers were mothballed, the crew members have been sent back to their respective units.
06/12/18 Pradip R Sagar/The Week