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SMS FOR CASH.

Money routed by kingpin Haschke viaTunisia after pleas from Aeromatrix CEO Praveen Bakshi may have been a payoff

IF THERE hadn't been an unexpected crunch of funds at an alleged Indian front company, Italian authorities might never have figured out how Finmeccanica managed to hide the trail of e1/421 million in bribe money.

Praveen Bakshi, head of Chandigarhbased Aeromatrix, who may have an alleged bigger role to play in this dirty deal than being a mere front for the middlemen, was forced to send a text message in December 2011 asking for more funds. By connecting the dots between the SMSs and tapped phone calls that followed, Italian authorities were able to pull the cover off the financial trail that Finmeccanica took to hide the cash.

In December 2011, Bakshi -- whose company features alleged middlemen Guido Haschke Ralph and Carlo Gerosa on its board -- was concerned about not having enough money from AgustaWestland to pay the monthly bills, according to an SMS recorded by Italian authorities. This SMS was followed by repeated messages from Bakshi.

" The following SMSes, exchanged between Haschke and Bakshi, reveal the financial triangulation between Tunisia, India and Mauritius," said the Italian probe report.

It begins with an innocuous request from Bakshi. " Hi Guido. We might come up against a situation in case the payment from AW doesn't arrive in December. I am not certain. I believe Hedi also may not have sufficient funds now. Could you get a firm answer from AW?" Bakshi writes, in the text message.

In reply, Haschke, whose interrogation forms the bulk of the Italian authorities evidence against the accused, told Bakshi that he would check with Attilio Garvaglia, a Finmeccanica consultant. He then asks the Indian businessman how much he needs, to which Bakshi writes that he needs ' 59,000' of unspecified currency at " best" and, at worst, " 40,000." He explains that this is for end of month, " salary, rent and taxes."

Piecing it together

The implication that the payment from ' AW,' believed to be AgustaWestland, would be late, prompts Haschke to suggest that Bakshi could tap into their reserve fund -- a suggestion that would end up revealing the Tunisian connect.

The middleman then says they have a reserve fund of ' 50k', prompting Bakshi to ask if he can send a request to Hedi Kammoun, the head of IDS Tunisia, from where e1/419.2 million (` 137.21 crore, as per Monday's exchange rate) of the e1/421 million (` 151.66 crore) payoff was routed, and delay the ' AW' remittance by 20 days for the following month.

Although the interrogation documents don't contain the reply text messages, the Italian authorities follow up these with transcripts of taped phone conversations that reveal the financial route. Haschke is recorded telling an AgustaWestland consultant, Attilio Garvaglia, that he is sending money to Bakshi because it is the end of the month.

The documents then have Garvaglia speaking to Kammoun who assures him that " everything has come, I've done everything, and immediately I've turned everything over to Praveen." In connecting the dots between these text messages and phone calls, the Italian authorities managed to piece together part of the complex financial screen Finmeccanica allegedly managed to put together in order to grease palms and get their VVIP helicopter contract. Bakshi has, however, denied all of the allegations.

Further investigation led to the discovery of AgustaWestland's ' engineering contracts' with two companies -- IDS Tunisia and IDS India -- that were made out for non- existent work, allowing the alleged bribe money to make its way to India.

Official receipts that have been attached as evidence by the investigators reveal how the alleged bribe money was given on a regular schedule, with a total of e1/421,425,647 being handed out through fake bills.

Despite denials from Bakshi, other conversations recorded by the Italian authorities reveal that the Aeromatrix head might have known much more than has been revealed. A conversation between Haschke and Gerosa points out that they are worried Gautam -- believed to be Gautam Khaitan, Delhi- based lawyer employed by Aeromatrix -- might suspect that something is up.

According to the Italian probe report, " Haschke and Gerosa worry about Gautam fearing that Aeromatrix be involved, but the two are in agreement that the only one they do not have to worry about is Praveen." The intercepts record the two middlemen talking about this.

" Gautam fears that Aeromatrix is involved. He did ask, whether you have already heard or not, and Praveen became all nice and rough," Haschke is heard saying.

Gerosa, the other middleman, replies, " yes, Praveen [ Bakshi] is the only one that we don't have to worry about." With inputs from Maneesh Pandey

YSR's Gerosa connect: Pg 14

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:6TUNI
Date:Feb 19, 2013
Words:800
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