The only defence dealer I’ve met left me several nuggets. Defence deals the world over, he told me, had an in-built cost of four per cent as ‘commission’. In India, though, it was 10 per cent. No, it didn’t all go to politicians. “There are so many people involved in defence procurement here that just to get the file to move from one office to another takes time and well, speed money,” he’d said with a laugh. This fits in with the size of the AgustaWestland deal (Rs 3,600 crore) and the amount pledged to middlemen (Rs 385 crore).
I’d looked up the previous defence procurement guidelines—Manohar Parrikar announced a new policy in March—which set out how a requirement was to be flagged, how many agencies needed to endorse it before the ministry would even issue the RFP (request for proposal) to suppliers. After that, another merry-go-round of committees, followed by price negotiations and nods from the finance ministry and the cabinet before issuing a supply order.
Christian Michel James, the British arms dealer, and his colleague Guido Ralph Haschke admit to having received Rs 226 crore out of the Rs 385 crore committed to them to speed up the deal. But if investigating agencies are to be believed, they retained the bulk of the money in their own accounts in Tunisia and managed to bring into India only some 6 million euros or Rs 45 crore. Strangely, this is the amount claimed to have been paid to the middlemen to take care of the Indian media between 2010 and 2012. During this period the Indian media had shown little or no interest in the deal, prompting Dr Subramanian Swamy to conclude the funds had been well utilised. Reports suggest that last year,the Enforcement Director did question a senior journalist, who admitted to accepting favours from Finmeccanica. Unconfirmed reports also suggest that a group of Indian journalists were hosted abroad by either the middlemen or the company. So, if only Rs 45 crore had reached India, how much of it could have reached Sonia Gandhi? Very little, if at all, I’d guess, because of the sheer number of people involved in clearing the deal.
More intriguing is the ‘claim’ that the Italian appellate court had mentioned her name four times in the 218-page judgment. There are reports suggesting that the court had merely included in the annexures a handwritten note and a letter produced by the prosecutors. The handwritten note doesn’t mention her or her initials; but it bears initials like AP, which has been interpreted as her political secretary Ahmed Patel. What’s more, the letter seems an appeal to the British High Commissioner in India to lobby for the deal and target Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi among others. This is hardly sufficient to hold her guilty. It’s also difficult to believe that Sonia would accept bribes from any defence dealer after her husband’s Bofors experience. But then, I can be incredibly naive and Dr Swamy can always be right.