NEW DELHI: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has alleged that former defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, in collusion with other Indian Air Force (IAF) officials, engaged in a series of calculated manipulations to favour M/s AgustaWestland in the Rs 3,600-crore VVIP chopper deal, according to people in the know.
The agency mentioned similar instances in its supplementary chargesheet released this Thursday, in which Sharma reportedly colluded with IAF officers to give preferential treatment to the British company.
The agency charged Sharma, a 1976 batch IAS officer who served as Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) until September 2017, and four IAF employees last week. After two years, the CBI gained government approval to prosecute them.
According to the agency, the Russians were rejected due to a technicality. According to the sources cited above, the Russians requested an exemption from filing earnest money deposits (EMD). Sharma, however, rejected this down.
AgustaWestland, on the other hand, had filed the earnest money deposit, but it was not in conformity with the rules. Even after it was discovered that AgustaWestland’s EMD did not comply with the regulations, it was permitted to replace it.
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Each vendor was required under the contract to use a nationalised bank for its EMD. However, the agency claims that at the time of its original EMD submission, AgustaWestland did not have a nationalised bank.
The agency claims that despite knowing that the Sikorsky S-92, an American medium-lift helicopter, was not ready for field trials, members of the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) approved it.
This was done to avoid the occurrence of a single vendor situation. People in the know say that in such a case, a new request for proposal (RFP) would have to be issued.
The CBI charged three IAF officials who were members of the TEC. The Defence Procurement Board has highlighted several concerns about the Committee’s report. According to sources, Sharma reportedly manipulated the objections in collaboration with former Air Vice Marshal Jasbir Singh Panesar, a co-accused in the case.
The CBI claims that Panesar assisted Sharma in diluting the minutes of the Board in order to overcome its objections and favour AgustaWestland. The agency claims that if only one recommendation had been made for field trials, AgustaWestland would not have won the contract.
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The supplemental charge sheet also says that Sharma purposefully withheld information from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), which had received an allegation of favouritism.
According to the CBI, Sharma, who was then Director General Acquisition, failed to provide correct facts to the CVC in 2009 on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
According to the persons stated above, Sharma’s participation in approving the “draught” request for proposal (RFP) for the VVIP chopper deal came under scrutiny of the agency after a review of the official files and alleged deviations detected in the transaction that were cleared.
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Sharma had previously denied any involvement in the transaction. Sharma called it a “frivolous allegation” in a text message to ET in September 2020. “I have a long, flawless service record for over 40 years, and nobody can blame me for any malicious action or decision,” Sharma added.
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