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Two more retired air chiefs likely to be grilled by CBI

The CBI is likely to seek clarification on the VVIP chopper scam from two successors of retired air chief SP Tyagi (tenure: 2004-07), who is alleged to have accepted bribe by Italian authorities. The two former air chiefs are Fali Major (2007--09) and PV Naik (2009-11). ‘We may seek clarification from them in connection with the scam as part of our probe,’ a senior CBI official said.

However, the source said as a case has not been registered yet, it would just be a clarification on some questions which could bring clarity to preliminary investigations.

Meanwhile, the Indian investigating team comprising a senior officer of the CBI, a senior law officer and a senior joint secretary didn’t leave for Italy till late Monday evening. The team would meet Italian prosecutors to ascertain the details of the case. An official said a lawyer is likely to be engaged in Italy to help the team understand Italian law, represent India’s case with local courts, and expedite the process of getting documents.

The defence ministry is also sending a senior joint secretary to Italy ‘to gather as much evidence as possible’ relating to the allegations of corruption. The MoD official is AK Bal.

The CBI team will probe if firms had been floated to route kickbacks in the helicopter deal with AgustaWestland, a Britain-based subsidiary of Italian firm Finmeccanica.

The source said the investigating agency has so far not registered a case as it wants to get more information about the kickbacks and establish authenticity of documents.

The sources added the CBI was handed a letter from the defence ministry seeking a probe which also contained some press clippings. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has also sought a report from the ministry on alleged irregularities in the chopper deal.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said the government was ‘ready for any discussion’ on the matter. ‘Parliament is the appropriate forum to discuss all issues raised by the Opposition. We are ready for any discussion,’ Singh said. ‘We have nothing to hide,’ he added.

Under fire, the defence ministry on Friday initiated action for cancellation of the chopper contract. It issued a formal show-cause notice to the Britain-based subsidiary of Finmeccanica to explain within a week why the contract should not be cancelled. Italian prosecutors have said that SP Tyagi had ensured the tender for these helicopters was developed in a way to match AW’s abilities, so that American and Russian competitors were removed. Tyagi has denied these charges.

Prosecutors in Italy told an Indian TV channel that ‘there is lots of evidence’ against the former air chief, and that ‘no other Indians apart from the Tyagis’ have been implicated so far.

There is also so far ‘no evidence of any Indian politicians being involved,’ they said.
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