In Pursuit of the ‘Invisible Hand’ in Choppergate

Pursuing the leads available in choppergate can help CBI nab the ‘invisible hand’, writes RK Raghavan.

5 min read
The abundant talent within the CBI should be able to ferret out facts through assiduous and painstaking interrogation of high-profile key suspects and their friends.(Photo: Lijumol Joseph/ <b>The Quint</b>)

Full marks to Defence Minister Parrikar for the cool with which he held floor in the Rajya Sabha, while making a detailed statement on the Choppergate. The only thing he did not have to contend with is any surprise element. The whole world knew how the Congress would have responded when they were caught with their hand in the till. I am, however, confounded by the ‘willing to wound, yet afraid to strike’ strategy of the Treasury Benches in not naming the suspects. This was despite everyone knowing whom the ‘invisible hand’ referred to and what was the ‘driving force’, two powerful and most potent expressions that I have borrowed from others.

The Defence Minister’s statement was too thorough and comprehensive for Congress’ comfort. Bereft of talking points by way of rebuttals, the latter’s only grievance was that the Minister had breached the time limit as mandated by the Rajya Sabha rules. The House Deputy Chairman rightly ruled he had no authority to direct the Defence Minister to cut his speech short.

Sufficient Evidence for the CBI

The Opposition is quibbling over the quantum of evidence available with the CBI to proceed further. In my view, there is an embarrassment of riches for the CBI. The material in their hands seems formidable, even after giving space to the exaggeration for which all investigating agencies are known. The abundant talent within the CBI should be able to ferret out facts through assiduous and painstaking interrogation of high-profile key suspects and their friends.

The Italian court judgement is not an irrelevant document as some would argue. A certified copy, when obtained by CBI on an application to that court, will provide more than circumstantial proof on which evidence obtained in India could be built and used intelligently. There is no need to garnish already available facts. Only a tendentious judge in India can turn a blind eye to his Italian counterpart’s findings.

The material against Air Chief Tyagi’s three cousins seems overwhelming. It is learnt that they were in close touch with the AgustaWestland (AW) officials and passed on certain vital information, including the change in specifications for the helicopter India was shopping for. That information was obtained allegedly from their distinguished cousin, who was heading the Indian Air Force. There is information that the former Air Chief met AW officials, both while he was in office and thereafter. We understand the fact of at least some of these meetings has been established beyond doubt through interrogation, and the four cousins will therefore have to convincingly establish their innocence in the context of these meetings.

CBI will thereafter have to follow the money trail, a la Bofors. This is going to be tough and time-consuming. Foreign banks will have to go an extra mile to cooperate.

Seeking Middleman Christian Michel’s Arrest

The middleman Christian Michel, a British national, has refused to join the investigation in India, for fear of being arrested. But he has not denied his possession of vital facts, and has agreed to speak to the CBI, if there is a guarantee he will not be arrested. One course out of this wrangle is to check whether he will speak to us in Dubai or the UK.

We must find out whether he will agree to come to our mission in either place to be questioned. If he agrees to come that would obviate the need to adopt the rigmarole of a Letter Rogatory, a process that would consume at least a year, if not longer. After this process, if we have enough evidence to warrant his arrest, we can still obtain a non-bailable warrant to bring him to face trial in India with Interpol’s assistance.


Task at Hand

  • CBI has sufficient evidence to proceed with the choppergate investigation and probe the role of high-profile individuals.
  • Tracing the money trail will be the toughest part of the investigation; CBI would have to seek the cooperation of foreign banks.
  • Seeking the arrest of middleman Christian Michel will help in connecting several dots; CBI should try interrogating him at the Indian missions abroad.
  • As per Section 156 of the CrPC, nothing should stop the probe agency from questioning the ‘sacred cows’.
  • It is too early to ask for a Supreme Court-monitored probe, unless and until CBI loses track of the ongoing probe.

Former Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi arriving at the CBI headquarters in New Delhi  in connection with alleged corruption   AgustaWestland choppers deal, May 2, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Former Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi arriving at the CBI headquarters in New Delhi in connection with alleged corruption AgustaWestland choppers deal, May 2, 2016. (Photo: PTI)

Nabbing the ‘Invisible Hand’

Pinning down the ‘invisible hand’ will be very hard. That is no reason to give up so early.  Extra-constitutional centres of power leave no trail. They are not only formidable, but are consummate as well beyond belief. There is invariably a blanket of individuals who had benefited from them and who will rarely betray their benefactors. The claim of this coterie that the law does not permit questioning of the ‘sacred cows’, who may not hold office, is most untenable.

A cursory reading of Section 156 of the Criminal Procedure Code will prove such a stand hollow and unacceptable. The first two sub-sections of the main sections read as below:

  • Any officer in charge of a police station may, without the order of a Magistrate, investigate any cognisable case which a Court having jurisdiction over the local area within the limits of such station would have power to inquire into or try under the provisions of Chapter XIII.

  • No proceeding of a police officer in any such case shall at any stage be called in question on the ground that the case was one which such officer was not empowered under this section to investigate.

No Need for a SC-Monitored Probe

In my view there is ground for CBI to summon and examine those who are hiding under the cloak of their high stature. Already three Governors have been questioned. In various cases serving Chief Ministers have been examined, that too without raising their hackles. But the CBI will have to take its own time to take this decisive step. It needs to collect some unassailable material to unravel the cleverly suppressed links. Nobody should therefore complain that the CBI is dragging its feet.

In this context it is preposterous to demand a SC-monitored investigation. Those making this demand should first establish that the CBI is either not doing its work or it is framing innocent people. Till such a charge holds ground, I see no basis for bringing in the SC at this stage.

(The writer is a former CBI Director)

Also read:

How Accurate Are Manohar Parrikar’s AgustaWestland Claims?

All You Want to Know About the AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper Scam

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