Ranjit Sinha, the Vatican, and the crooked AgustaWestland helicopter deal – Chitra Subramaniam

Ranjit Sinha

Chitra Subramaniam“The crux of the matter is that Indian taxpayers were fooled [in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal], India was cheated, Italian courts have produced evidence that bribes were paid, Switzerland has extradited one of the middlemen, and we are being led to believe that India is working furiously to find the guilty. The contract has been cancelled but we have failed to retrieve a bank guaranty and have been forced into arbitration by AgustaWestland.” – Chitra Subramaniam

Vatican City in RomeLate afternoon on Friday, April 18, 2014, a piece of information was circulated in New Delhi stating that Ranjit Sinha, Director, Central Bureau of Information had met the Indian envoy to Italy, Basant Kumar Gupta. The meeting, sources told the media, was arranged on the sidelines of a conference organized by the London Metropolitan Police on human trafficking.

Sources told journalists the meeting took stock of the state of play of the AgustaWestland case in Italian courts. The two men reportedly discussed India’s judicial request the Letter Rogatory (LR) in Italy and Sinha discussed ways and means to fast-track the agency’s probe into the deal.

We found acronyms, religious projects and a call by India’s caged-parrot – as Singh famously called himself recently – to set up a Global March of Religious Priests against Human Trafficking. We also found out that the CBI had proposed itself as a nodal agency to channelize funds to NGOs in India. We are left wondering what bishops and cardinals know about helicopters.

The News Minute has been following this story closely. We were keen to find out of Sinha had been to Milan where Guido Haschke, one of the middlemen in the 560 million Euro VVIP helicopter deal, was seeking to turn approver (plea bargaining). That deal with the Italian prosecution was to be approved by a Judge in the Tribunal of Busto Arsizio, a village in northern Italy near Milan on April 11, 2014. If that happened, it would be the first sentencing in the chopper scam where 50 million Euros have been paid as bribes.

CBI HQ New DelhiThe CBI was not available to comment

Unable to get any answers for the plea-bargaining deal, we conducted our own investigation and this is what we found. The conference on human trafficking was organized not by the London Police but by the Vatican. Titled “Church and Law Enforcement in Partnership,” the conference held on 9-10 April 2014, had four aims: Prevention, Pastoral Care, Reintegration and Developing an International Network of Bishop’ Conferences and Law Enforcement agencies.

TNM also found out that preparation for this meeting was underway for several weeks. On March 11, 2014, the head of London’s Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was confirmed as participating in the meeting which was chaired by Cardinal Vincent Nichols. Read all about these meetings and Sinha’s address in the links below.

During his speech, India’s top sleuth said many NGO on the ground were not connected and starved of funds that needed to be better channelized. “The CBI can be a nodal agency with the help of known experts in India and this agency can be the facilitating body for channelization of funds, if required.” How can the CBI channelise funds? Did Ranjit Sinha get any clearance before saying this?

Ranjit Sinha also spoke about the need to protect vulnerable communities. Sinha held forth on the distinction between human trafficking and illegal immigration stating that both have certain common currents. “Whereas in trafficking the person does not give informed consent, in illegal migration, the person’s consent is distinct. However an illegal migrant can be eventually trafficked,” he said pointing to examples from Kerala.

“The recent series of cases of trafficking from Kerala by the CBI is a clear example of human trafficking taking place in façade of illegal migration,” Singh said. According to him a lakh and ten thousand children are reported to be missing out of which 40,000 remain untraced.

Sinha said an important initiative in preventing trafficking in the source area and in containing demand is involvement of religious priests. An Inter Religion Priest Forum (IRPF) was set up in several States in India like Bihar, Jharkhand. “These forums had religion priests from different communities and religions in India.… IRPF has made tremendous impact in preventing and combating human trafficking,” said Sinha adding that this good practice could be replicated elsewhere in the world.

Given the international nature of the problem, Sinha said IRPF and AHTU could be institutionalized more robustly. “Congregation of religious priests from different communities and religions can be organized across the globe…. It could generate a “Global March of Religious Priests against Human Trafficking.”

Pope Francis "the Humble" grooming a little boy?Pope Francis addressed the 20-odd participants. “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity,” he said.

The conference – second of its kind – is the brainchild of the Bishop’ Conference of England and Wales in collaboration with the UK Police Force and was hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Nigerian Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja has been battling human trafficking for decades together with missionaries, religious and lay activists whom he called “foot soldiers” in service of the Gospel.

India’s top sleuth is free to attend any meetings around the world. Why did the caged-parrot tell India he went to a meeting on human trafficking organized by the London Metropolitan Police and the AgustaWestland LR discussion was business as usual during such a crucial week in the prosecution’s diary? 

What else is India’s top sleuth hiding? – The News Minute, 21 April 2014

AgustaWestland Helicopter

AgustaWestland: Is CBI Director Ranjit Sinha Hiding Information? – Chitra Subramaniam

This is an example of how what you don’t say becomes more important than what you say. Here’s why.

Ranjit Sinha, the Director of India’s premier investigating agency the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) went to Rome last week to attend a conference organized by the London Metropolitan Police, we were told. (See related story above).

Since he was there, he dropped in to meet the Indian envoy, like that only. For the record, we learnt that he discussed ways and means to speed up India’s judicial request, the Letter Rogatory (LR) with Italy about the AgustaWestland bribes-for-helicopters deal.

The caged-parrot, as India’s top sleuth described himself recently, “pressed” for early and urgent action. Together with India’s Ambassador to Italy Basant Kumar Gupta, he discussed “ways and means for better coordination with Italian authorities to secure crucial information sought by the agency in its request,” sources told the media over this weekend.

Why India’s top sleuth didn’t go to Milan (three hours by train from Rome) is not known. Neither is it known if he did. Milan is close to Burso Arsizio, a village in northern Italy where Italian prosecutors and courts are fairly close to knowing all about who paid what to whom, when and why in the 560 million Euro Indian contract for VVIP helicopters. The prosecutors have already said that AugustaWestland paid 50 million Euros in bribes. On the basis of their evidence, Switzerland has extradited one of the middlemen Guido Haschke who has decided to enter into plea bargaining.

A decision on his request by the judge was expected on April 11 – the same week that Ranjit Singh was in Rome. Was he present when the decision was announced? What is the decision? Was the statement about attending a police conference in Rome a cagey reference to presence in Italy at the right time in the right place or wrong place? Is India to conclude that delay in the LR means the CBI was not present and/or is not party to what Haschke is doing or saying? Questions and more questions, beginning with – why?

Giuseppe OrsiIf the Italian judge has ratified Haschke’s request, it will be the first sentencing in the scandal which has hit Italy’s state-owned defence group Finmeccanica and its helicopter unit AgustaWestland and rattled New Delhi for a year. For the information he is willing to share, Haschke would be sentenced to serve a year and 10 months under house arrest or perform community service. The News Minute has not been able to reach Haschke, who has never publicly admitted to any guilt, for comment. He is a Swiss-resident Italian and U.S. national.

Among other officials and countries working on this case in Europe, TNM has been in touch with the official Indian representation in Rome and Milan over the past few months. The standard response is that all interaction with journalists on this is through the Raksha Mantrayala (Defence Ministry).

S. P. TyagiIt may be recalled that the former Chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF) S. P. Tyagi and some 12 others have been named in an FIR registered by the CBI in April 2013 probing the bribes. It includes the Tyagi cousins — Sanjeev, alias Julie, Rajeev, alias Docsa, and Sandeep and European middlemen Carlo Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guido Haschke. Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini, the top executives of Italian firm Finmeccanica and its United Kingdom-based subsidiary AgustaWestland are also facing trial in Italy for alleged corruption in the supply of 12 VVIP helicopters to India.

During the hearings Italian prosecutors produced a handwritten note by Orsi where he instructs his lawyers to speak to the then Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to talk to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The note was found in Orsi’s prison cell. Italian prosecutors have also found other notes which can be called bribery budget with names etc – numbers and initials that cannot appear on any business plan. It is fairly common for bribe givers and takers to work on parallel notes of this nature.

The crux of the matter is that Indian taxpayers were fooled, India was cheated, Italian courts have produced evidence that bribes were paid, Switzerland has extradited one of the middlemen, and we are being led to believe that India is working furiously to find the guilty. The contract has been cancelled but we have failed to retrieve a bank guaranty and have been forced into arbitration by AgustaWestland.

Was Sinha in the Vatican, Milan and Busto Arsizio? What is going on? – The News Minute, 21 April 2014

UK Home Secretary Theresa May & UK Cardinal Vincent Nichols at Vatican Conference in Rome

Vatican asked India for a religious undertaking: India refused says CBI Director – The News Minute

The Vatican had asked India to sign an undertaking that they could work with missionaries and other religious groups and NGOs in India to combat human trafficking. “We are a secular country and we turned down this request,” Ranjit Sinha, Director CBI told The News Minute today. “This was also conveyed to the Vatican through appropriate channels including the MEA,” India’s top sleuth said.

The News Minute which this morning broke the story about the Vatican-sponsored meeting of law enforcement agencies from some 20 countries had also learnt that such an undertaking was sought from the Government of India at the April 8-10 meeting at the Vatican. While it was not a pre-condition to participating in the meeting, pressure was exercised on India to concede. Other countries present at the by-invitation-only conference signed on to the deal.

Vincent Nichols & Boy  ChoristerSinha also told The News Minute that inputs for the meeting were provided by the Interpol and the office of the London Metropolitan Police as it was their initiative. However, Vatican Radio and news sources accessed by TNM clearly state that the initiative was the brainchild of the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales.

Sinha was unclear about the exact roles and responsibilities of Vatican, London Met Police and Interpol, but this document dated March 11, 2014 clearly states the meeting was organized by the Vatican. Read: Head of London’s Met police at Vatican trafficking conference.

If Vatican’s request had been acceded to, religious groups from Europe and UK would have access to over 220 districts to conduct what the documents say includes “vulnerability mapping.” (emphasis added)

On the AgustaWestland case in which Haschke, the critical middleman wants to turn approver; the hearings were slated in Busto Arsizio in Northern Italy on April 11. When asked about this, Sinha said “everything was going on well.” Pressed to elaborate, he said the Indian ambassador to Rome was in the complete know of things. – The News Minute, 21 April 2014

» Chitra Subramaniam Duella is a journalist and one of India’s best known media personalities. She is famous for her investigation of the Bofors-India Howitzer deal (Bofors Scandal) which is widely believed to have contributed to the electoral defeat of former prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1989.