In a major setback to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), a Delhi sessions court granted bail to former Air Force chief SP Tyagi on Monday. Tyagi was directed to furnish a bail bond of Rs 2 lakh and one surety for a like amount.
Sanjeev Tyagi and Gautam Khaitan, the co-accused, were denied bail and will remain in judicial custody till December 30.
Tyagi and the other two allegedly received kickbacks while buying a dozen AW-101 VVIP helicopters from the UK-based AgustaWestland company. Tyagi, who was held on December 9, is the first chief from any wing of the armed forces to be arrested.
The CBI arrested the accused more than three years after registering the FIR.
“During the arguments, the CBI failed to state as to how much cash was paid to the accused and when it was paid,” Special CBI Judge Arvind Kumar noted. The additional sessions judge gave his order after hearing arguments from the defence and the CBI last week.
Representing the CBI, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, on Friday, submitted that, if released, the former air chief would influence the witness and tamper with the investigation. However, the court found these charges to be “unfounded” and “without any bias.”
The court forbade Tyagi from tampering with evidence and influencing witnesses. It directed him to join the investigation as and when called by the CBI. Tyagi also cannot leave the NCR region without court permission.
The former air chief’s bail was hailed by veterans who have been supporting him throughout his incarceration. Shortly after receiving bail, IAF Chief Arup Raha made a statement to the media saying that Tyagi’s arrest had affected the morale of the Air Force and dented the image of the forces. Raha also added that Tyagi should not be treated like a common criminal.
Such sentiments were echoed by Tyagi’s supporters — retired Air Marshals and Air Vice Marshals who thronged the courtroom to stand beside their chief. The community, who was incensed over Tyagi’s arrest and incarceration, had even come out with a petition seeking his release. The petition garnered over 2,000 signatures.
Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev, better known as Julie, and Khaitan were arrested by the CBI on December 9 in an illegal graft case. The FIR, which the CBI had filed close to four years ago, stated that Tyagi had granted approval for reduction of the service ceiling (height of flying capability) of the choppers from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres. This, the CBI alleged, was instrumental in making AgustaWestland eligible to participate in a bid to supply helicopters.
The probe agency further alleged that Italian middlemen Guido Haschke and Carlos Gerosa had given Tyagi cash, camouflaged in the form of consultancy fees, to alter the operational requirements.
Representing the defence, Menaka Guruswamy refuted all charges levelled against her client. In her arguments for bail submitted last week, Guruswamy stressed that the charges against Tyagi were economic in nature, for which the documents had already been investigated by the CBI. She claimed that the only charge against her client was vague and that the CBI had based their allegations on the judgment from an Italian court of appeals.
Incidentally, the Italian Supreme Court accepted the plea and ordered a re-trial of Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini, former CEOs of Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland. The two were then convicted for bribing Indian government officials for a 560 million Euro deal involving the sale of 12 helicopters.