CBI today questioned West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan as a "witness" in connection with its probe into allegations of bribery in the Rs 3600-crore VVIP chopper deal with Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland. 80-year-old Narayanan was asked to appear before CBI officers to record his statement in connection with the deal as he was part of the group which had gone into the tendering procedures before purchase of the helicopters, CBI sources said.
Narayanan was the former National Security Advisor before being appointed as Governor of the West Bengal. The sources said the need to record the statement of Narayanan as a witness was felt as he, along with Goa Governor BV Wanchoo, had participated in the meeting in 2005 that allowed key changes in the technical specifications of the chopper.
CBI is also expected to record the statement of Wanchoo and he has been asked to appear before the agency. He was the chief of elite Special Protection Group (SPG) guarding the Prime Minister before he was appointed as Governor. CBI had sought permission to record their statements as part of its probe into alleged Rs 360-crore bribe paid in the deal that was scrapped by the government in December last year.
CBI registered a case against former IAF Chief S P Tyagi along with 13 others including his cousins and European middlemen in the case.
The allegation against the former Air Chief was that he had reduced flying ceiling of the helicopter so that AgustaWestland was included in the bids. Tyagi has refuted the allegation against him. However, this decision was taken in consultation with the officials of SPG and the Prime Minister's Office including Narayanan. CBI has alleged reduction of the service ceiling--maximum height at which a helicopter can perform normally—allowed the UK-based firm to get into the fray as, otherwise, its helicopters were not even qualified for submission of bids.
CBI's request for questioning of Narayanan and Wanchoo was earlier rejected by the Law Ministry during the UPA regime, prompting the agency to send a request to the President Pranab Mukherjee's Secretariat seeking permission to record their statement as witnesses. The Law Ministry had declined permission saying the two were in constitutional posts which gave them immunity from prosecution under Article 361 of the Constitution.
The agency has put the investigation in this case on a fast-track and questioned several bureaucrats including former Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi and Comptroller and Auditor General Shashikant Sharma who was the then Defence Secretary. CBI claims the parameters regarding the height at which the helicopter can fly as well as the flight evaluation were changed in a manner that enabled AgustaWestland to clinch the deal vis-a-vis its competitor Sikorsky.
In April this year, former Secretary (Security) at the Cabinet Secretariat Sudhir Kumar, former Inspector General, SPG N Ramachandran, who retired as DGP Meghalaya, and former Special Secretary (Acquisition) in the Defence Ministry H C Gupta were examined by the agency as part of its probe. Kumar was Secretary (Security) during 2004-05. The Secretary (Security) looks after the administration of SPG.