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Posted at: Dec 7, 2018, 12:15 AM; last updated: Dec 7, 2018, 12:15 AM (IST)

AgustaWestland bribery

Can CBI make the rare catch sing?
AgustaWestland bribery

CHRISTIAN Michel fought long and hard to avoid a deportation to India. He was earlier successful in preventing a court appearance in Italy where the case against the chief of AgustaWestland for bribing Indian officials and politicians fell through for want of sufficient proof. Significantly, the then UPA government had moved the Italian court as a civil party. The die was cast for the extradition of Michel from Dubai in July last year when the Enforcement Directorate arrested Shivani Saxena for routing money on his behalf. The claim then, as it is now, was that Saxena will lay out the money trail, especially to politicians, since she herself was a conduit.

Little has been heard of that case. Even in the first CBI charge-sheet, except for former IAF chief SP Tyagi and his kin, no other bureaucrat felt the heat. Indeed, probe into defence deals worldwide is like entering the Bermuda Triangle. Investigations generally run into lack of response from countries and companies involved in the case. The massive financial muscle of the worldwide military industrial complex is generally successful in ensuring that cases where graft is alleged are brushed under the carpet. Against that backdrop it is gratifying that India has bagged a foreigner middleman, an  elusive species in all past instances of corrupt defence deals.

The BJP has hoisted Michel’s arrest into a poll issue even though two middlemen remain out of India’s grasp. The CBI also requires considerable legwork to prove that the alleged money trail went to highly placed political beneficiaries. The issue of middlemen infiltrating the IAF, the Defence Ministry and the higher political echelons needs sincerity of purpose rather than political grandstanding. The ball is in now in the legal domain and will be argued on merits. But there is also a gaping lacuna in the Indian defence acquisition process — onerous conditions have caused a paucity of authorised liaison persons to navigate foreign companies through the shoals of Indian babudom. This gives space for shadowy operators to ply their trade.

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