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Above: The AgustaWestland chopper/Photo: Rick Inghan/imgproc.airliners.net

Regardless of the CBI saying this case is independent of any legal cleansing in Italy, the fact is that a major leg of the stool in the kickback case has fallen off, bruising India   

~By Bikram Vohra

Spagnolini and Orsi. Sounds like a duo making a musical. Except that they have struck a discordant note in another scandal involving military purchase by India. The purchase of 12 VIP transporters in 2007 is the new century’s Bofors and has laboured along as a probe leads to top tiers of the Congress-led government.

Giuseppe Orsi, former chief of the Italian State-controlled defence group Finmeccanica, had been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail on charges of false accounting and bribery. Bruno Spagnolini, the previous head of Finmeccanica’s helicopter unit, AgustaWestland, was additionally awarded a four-year jail term.

Both have now been handed the key to freedom by an appellate court in Milan, citing absence of evidence to indict them. The court has also found that there was a legal flaw in the earlier judgment and the lower court had erred in finding the two executives guilty. In December 2016, the case was sent on appeal to a higher court. Now, it has been thrown out.

The two points that fling themselves on the front burner are both about the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the evidence. There must have been something relevant in the first round for reasonably harsh indictments and sentences for both men. Whatever the texture of the mysterious “erroneous” basis of the case, the fact is that it would not have been lightly done seeing as how the military industrial complex in any nation is a protected species to a great extent. When you sentence two senior members of the club, you send a sharp ripple of discomfort up and down the corporate hierarchy. That the appellate court has so far not thought it fit to elaborate on the errors of its inferior bench and left everyone in the dark allows for the element of convenience to lurk in the corner.

Hold that thought. Now we have the Indian investigation that says “j’accuse” with concrete confidence and is quoted before and after this loss of legal support from Italy as having more than ample evidence of wrongdoing by Spagnolini and Orsi. If that be the case and it is significant and tangible and exists in the form of documentation and irrefutable proof, why has this not been volunteered to the Italian courts and if it has, why was it not factored into the mix?

One has to come to the conclusion that the Italians feel there has been enough chastisement shown and there is no need to flog things further and cause more upheaval in the already moribund hardware manufacturing sector. To have top echelons dragged through the mud for transacting “business” with anyone but especially a nation famous for its corruption and middleman hanky-panky is an unhappy precedent. So justice finds a way out to a win-win solution. Either that or this whole thing has been a witch-hunt and there really are no grounds for going on endlessly about this case.

CARBIDE CASE

Two previous events usher themselves into the picture. In the case of Bofors, Win Chadha, the agent, held that it was a huge conspiracy to indict Rajiv Gandhi and that an emissary even visited him abroad to say that all he had to state was Gandhi was guilty and he could come home free as a bird. Decades later, the same family and its circle of once influential individuals face similar charges. Just like Bofors, no one really cares anymore in India and it has been over five years since the deal was scrapped and there is still no adequate conclusion.

If we take this situation and run it through the prism of the Union Carbide havoc in Bhopal, one realises that bringing these two gentlemen to justice is a waste of effort and only one for the record books. They are not coming to India for work or vacation or even stopping over. Just as we pranced about over Carbide chief Warren Anderson’s extradition, we are not going to get any further on that score. To all intents and purposes, while we might still find it necessary to keep at Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, his having got a clean chit from the Italian court notwithstanding, it will most likely lead to an investigative cul de sac.

Again, it is difficult to say what the evidence on the Indian side amounts to but it did not cut the mustard in Italy and if it is so concrete, one has to ask again why it has been ignored. Tyagi’s role, as announced by the Italians, was non-existent and there is no evidence he was paid off. If India’s investigation shows otherwise, it has to be irrefutable and one does wonder how strong it is if in five years, the case stays unresolved.

With the Italians out of it, the Agusta issue becomes an Indian affair. The two cases are now mutually exclusive. Having ended the deal in 2013 and packed the choppers off, this development pretty much puts paid to anything more than an onerous repetition of unsubstantiated accusations and innuendo.

It is not enough to keep saying that we have the evidence if we cannot elaborate in clear terms what this evidence constitutes.

What are we waiting for?

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