NEW DELHI: As part of its larger ongoing probe into the bribery allegations engulfing the Rs3,546-crore contract for 12 VVIP helicopters, the CBI will also investigate the role played by a brigadier who allegedly demanded bribe fromAgustaWestland to swing the other deal for 197 light utility choppers in its favour as well.
"With the CBI probing the VVIP helicopter contract, it's but natural that the agency will also examine the allegations made against the brigadier in the 197-helicopter project. We have also written to CBI about this matter," said a defence ministry official.
The Army earlier had asked the defence ministry to keep the over Rs 3,000 crore project for the 197 helicopters on hold till the inquiry against Brig V S Saini is completed to avoid any blowback later.
Though AgustaWestland no longer figures in the competition for the 197-helicopter project, where Russian Kamov Ka-226T and Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fenne choppers are locked in the final competition, the controversy about the brigadier has also pushed this proposed critical acquisition into cold storage.
Brig Saini's name had cropped up in the ongoing Italian probe into the bribery allegations in the VVIP helicopter contract inked with AgustaWestland, the UK-based subsidiary of Italian conglomerateFinmeccanica, in February 2010.
A document seized by the Italian investigators showed that Brig Saini had allegedly demanded over $5 million to favour the company in the 197-helicopter deal as well. Now, posted at the Officers' Training Academy in Chennai, Brig Saini was the officer-in-charge of the field trials for the light helicopters as the "Brig-Aviation" at the Northern Command based in Udhampur.
This is not the first time that the procurement of 197 light choppers to replace the ageing Cheetah/Chetak fleet has run into trouble. The entire acquisition process for them has already been scrapped once in December 2007 after being virtually finalized. Consequently, the armed forces continue to battle age and obsolescence when they urgently need 440 new light-utility helicopters to replace the old Cheetah/Chetak fleet.