The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has sought prosecution sanction from the Union government against former defence secretary and Comptroller and Auditor General of India Shashikant Sharma, former Air-Vice Marshal Jasbir Singh Panesar, and three other Indian Air Force (IAF) officers in connection with the UPA-era AgustaWestland chopper scam.
According to the reports, the CBI officials have approached the Defence Ministry seeking permission to prosecute Shashikant Sharma, Panesar, three others for their alleged involvement in the multi-crore chopper scam.
According to Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, it is mandatory for CBI to seek a prosecution sanction from the concerned department before filing a charge sheet against a government official.
Shashikant Sharma was Joint Secretary (Air) in the Ministry of Defence when the contract was under consideration. Sharma had reportedly finalised the operational requirements (OR) for the deal.
Sharma later became India’s defence secretary, between July 2011 and May 2013, and went on to become CAG till 2017. The alleged violations and kickbacks in the UPA era scam was one of the biggest controversies during the Manmohan Singh government.
Reportedly, the CBI has stated that the five officers had taken “key decisions” and were actively involved in the procurement process of VVIP chopper deal which took place during UPA-II.
The words “JS Air” – an alleged reference to the designation Joint Secretary (Air) had appeared in Italian court judgments in connection with AgustaWestland scam, as revealed by British middleman Christian Michel.
A second CBI officer speaking to Hindustan Times said that Panesar and the three IAF officers had played an important role in the purchase and testing of the AW-101 helicopters. The three other officers – Deputy chief test pilot SA Kunte, Wing Commander Thomas Mathew, and Group Captain N Santosh.
The CBI officer also added there have prepared a supplementary charge sheet against Shashikant Sharma, Panesar, Kunte, Mathew and Santosh, which now needs a prior government sanction. The charge sheet will also detail the role of about other officials and individuals that amount to conspiracy and violation under the prevention of corruption act, the officer added.
UPA era AgustaWestland Scam
India had signed a deal in 2010 under the UPA regime to buy 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters for the service of the Prime Minister, the President and other VVIPs. It is alleged that some politicians and public servants had abused their official positions to reduce the service ceiling of the VVIPs helicopter from 6000 metres to 4500 metres to make AgustaWestland eligible for the contract and had awarded the contract for an amount of Euro 556.262 million in 2010. The deal was cancelled in 2013 after the scam was revealed.
Several revelations came to light, from the names of “Italian Lady”, to “Italian Lady’s son R“. From how Christian Michel was lobbying for the Eurofighter and against the Rafale deal, to how he had unbridled access to the PMO under Congress regime, the CCS and even the investigative agencies.