A shadow of a man wearing a blue turban followed quickly by a shadow of a man wearing a blue turban surrounded by key advisers and allies slip into a pizzeria in New Delhi, India to brain-storm about the Augusta-Westland chopper deal (what else). The usual, shouts the key adviser to the serving staff who arrive presto with Pizza Niente da Nascondere (nothing to hide)
Its GHIP (good heavens, its parliament) season, so extras are free. In addition to french fries, bacon and ketchup, they include:
Hing – Rare and smelly Indian spice that can leave a trace for days, sometimes weeks. Acquired taste, recommended for digestion.
Howitzer – Old and musty tasting paper-like wafer, known to lead to strange body movements. Swiftly acquired taste.
Haldi – Yellow powder, also called curry in a hurry, prefers to linger on designer ties and documents.
Helicopter – Finely chopped Indian and European vegetables, sautéed in their own juice. Fashionable taste.
Helium – Gas-like taste. Unlike other gasses, this one has no smell in addition to being able to rise with the pizza’s self-rising dough. Especially recommended for law-makers who have to rise and sit all day long.
The Prime Minister of 1.2 billion people asks for Fluda (falooda which is Indian vermicelli, not a Bengali with flu). The adviser says no, he’s just received to stay within G and H and in fact revert to another F – Finmeccanica. All other letters of the alphabet, including I for India, can wait. The leader of the world’s largest democracy, speaking for you and me, agrees.
This is not funny. I agree. I think of the thousands of soldiers who guard India’s borders, die so others can live and write silly things like this, see politicians pocket millions of dollars in bribes, argue in television studios that sound truly travels faster than light, travel in VVIP helicopters to attend parent-teacher meetings and get VVIP protection when bullets couldn’t be bothered. The leader of the world’s largest democracy says his government – us – has nothing to hide about allegations of bribes in the $760 million Augusta-Westland helicopter deal between India and Italy.
Giuseppe Orsi, former CEO of Finmeccanica is in a prison in Italy. Abhisek Verma, an arms dealer against whom the government of India – us – is pretending to seek help from Switzerland is in a prison in India. Incriminating mails show he was present in meetings when the Augusta Westland deal was discussed, where monies for politicians was also factored in. He was in frequent contact with Swiss-based middlemen in the deal. The government of India – us – is running around the world saying it has nothing to hide or seek.
Who said we, the people of India, had anything to do with a corrupt arms deal?
Our Defense Minister says he will not resign, we live in a dangerous neighbourhood and greedy people are making money in Indian arms deals – out, damned spot. We didn’t ask him to resign. India was born in a dangerous neighbourhood. India’s minister for Parliamentary Affairs says the government is open to setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to discuss the helicopter scandal. Did he ask us what we, Indians, think? Our JPCs have a history of manufactured failure. Besides, what’s there to discuss except who got the bribes, if they did?
Times Now, which has taken a lead on this investigation, has established a long and circuitous money trail involving many people. NJT sarl, a small company in Lausanne – Switzerland, has reportedly overseen arms business with India to the tune of $5.5 billion. The money trail goes from Italy to the United States to Bermuda, Switzerland and New Delhi. Multiple currencies are involved as amounts like lakh crore dollars or crore dollars have entered the language. There are several emails, telephone conversations and meetings between the middlemen in the Augusta affair – Carlo Gerosa and Guido Hashcke, both of whom are on the run. Indian officers are involved. One of them is supposed to have spent two weeks in Finmecannica’s factory ensuring that the machines are safe for VVIP protection. Are we, the people of India to believe that nobody in the country was aware of this?
This is an uncanny replay of the Bofors investigations where the first allegations simply said Indian and others were paid in the $1.2 billion howitzer deal to take Sweden’s biggest contract to date home. Nobody accused Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He said neither he nor his family was involved, thus scoring an auto goal. His government then went on to deny what was not said, questioned the quality of the guns, accused the Swedes of non-cooperation, travelled all over the world at tax payer’s money just to ensure that nobody found anything. The maze of deceit and lies they propped up shamed Sherlock Holmes. Marc Bonnant, one of the world’s best lawyers in matters of mutual assistance in criminal matters who was India’s lawyer wondered why we were telling him what to do when it was his job to do so. All this while evidence to book the guilty and retrieve illegal money from Swiss banks was available with India, thanks in large measure to journalistic investigations which Rajiv Gandhi dismissed as “photocopies from a girl reporter”, referring to documents I had secured from Sweden.
Our sleuths from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have now air-dashed to Italy to ferret out the truth, first of which is to ensure stories in the Indian media are photocopies! Last heard from some pliant media, they have not wasted a minute to catch the guilty. The moment they arrived in Milano, they have been closeted – good heavens – with important people who will help us catch the thieves. Now, why does this sound falsetto? Because that’s what it is – blatantly false and silly. Finmeccanica has till Friday to cough up the names. It has agreed to cooperate with India as per international law. And there’s the sting. What are the parameters of the Italo-Indian negotiations? What happens if we don’t receive any information in two days? Does anybody care?
Kickbacks are what donkeys and goats generate. Their requirements are generally built into contract negotiations which in India take very long to conclude. The longer it takes, the surer the layering. Moving files in India from ministry to ministry is a profession. File pushers get small change. Goat comes to mind. Bribes are when style and discretion appear, wearing a green wig. These are normally paid to people or companies who can influence the final decision. They come in when the numbers in the contract begin to appear. Bribe-takers hive off in the end. For example in Bofors, A.E. Services came out of the blue, cut into the deal, promised Bofors that it would conclude the deal in three months – failing which, no payments were necessary. No novice, this A.E. Services – kya bolta tu? These are called political payoffs that swing the deal in favour of the highest bidder and hopefully the best product and other negotiators cannot take them to court because they are connected to very powerful people. In l’affaire Bofors, monies from A.E.Services was traced directly to Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi. He was allowed to escape from India on a tip that he was on the verge of being arrested, much like Warren Anderson of Union Carbide who was kept in a room till he could be accorded safe passage out of India. In 2009, the Prime Minister of India said we should apologise to Quattrocchi because we had harassed an innocent man! The CBI allowed him to take his money out from London but not before he had received a notice from our income tax department that he had not paid taxes on the bribe.
Our sleuths have made some astute observations about the VVIP helicopter. For example, we know the toilets were modified so our octogenarian and septuagenarian leaders spending our money could stand when they answered nature’s call. Some technical specs were changed by bureaucrats who scratched on the file and others sent it up to the Prime Minister’s Office for further scratches.
Scratching is an Indian habit. Government files are full of scratches, often rubber-stamped with scratches and signatures with a flourish that drown entire paragraphs. If a scared bureaucrat makes a noting recalling dues process it will look exactly like that – scared.
The first set of documents that were presented to the Swiss government (1990) when we asked for mutual assistance in criminal matters were so brutally scratched, tied up in strings and pock-marked with stamps that a Swiss official dealing with the case asked if there were legal implications to cutting the thread that was used to bind the documents.
We have Abhishek Verma sitting in a New Delhi jail. We have an open dossier on him in the office of the Attorney General of Switzerland. The Swiss do not agree to opening dossiers unless there’s prima facie evidence to provide assistance in criminal matters to a third country. The Swiss are waiting for additional information from us to proceed on the dossier. They have been waiting since September 2012.
Our sleuths will return empty handed from their Italian Holiday. Or, they will bring us some historical data about who said what to whom, where and not necessarily why. In the meantime, we in India have only one question – who got the money, Mr Prime Minister? Would you like a Quattro—no,no, – Formaggi?
The author is working with the Times Now team on this investigation.
Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/13722921@N06/3103830115/]