The CBI has registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) against unknown Ministry of Defence officials to probe the Embraer aircraft deal scam, in less than 12 hours after this correspondent revealed on NewsX the minutes of four meetings held in December 2006 to finalise the aircraft for the AEW&C project.

This correspondent has revealed that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was not on board with the Indian Air Force under then Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi over the selection of Embraer aircraft. 

PE is the very initial measure taken by the CBI to examine any case before lodging a First Information Report (FIR) against suspected persons. 

The CBI told this correspondent that “CBI has registered a PE (preliminary enquiry) against unknown opfficials of the Ministry of Defence (GOI) and others. This on a refernce from the said Ministry on allegations related to M/s. Embraer employing an agent to facilitate various contracts. These include the contract for AEW&C project wioth CABS/DRDO for procurement of 3 aircraft”.

This correspondent has accessed the key 10-page documents that form part of the “Embraer files” that are being investigated by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. The documents contain the minutes of the four meetings held in December 2006 to finalise the aircraft for the AEW&C project. 

In the first of the four meetings, held at Air Headquarter, New Delhi on 5 December 2006, the documents suggest, then Programme Director (AEW&C) Dr S. Christopher (who is currently the DRDO chief) had proposed two alternative options with different configuration and endurance for the aircraft as a platform for this project. He also pointed out that better options will be available with the change of aircraft. But the Air Force under S.P. Tyagi overruled Christopher’s arguments and stated that the DRDO will work with Embraer, the world’s third largest aircraft manufacturer that is now under the scanner of the US and Brazilian authorities for alleged kickbacks.

The Embraer files accessed by this correspondent reveal that four meetings had taken place on 5,6, 8 and 19 December 2006 among the Air Force officers, DRDO officials and the scientific adviser to the then Defence Minister, A.K. Antony.

“Dr. Christopher brought out that better options will be available with change of aircraft. The Chairman (the then Deputy Chief of Air Staff) stated that we need to work with EMB-145 and develop a prototype with the configuration that CABS will formulate and send to IAF for consideration”, stated the minutes that are available with this correspondent. 

The minutes further state: “The Programme Director, AEW&C stated that CABS has proposed two options with different configuration and endurance. DCAS asked him to submit a clear proposal of what can be achieved with a 24T aircraft.”

The Defence Ministry is also expected to seek information from Brazil and the US through Indian defence attachés deployed in Indian embassies in the two countries. 

According to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, Embraer had allegedly engaged a UK-based defence middleman and paid him kickbacks in order to ink the deal with India. Media reports further alleged that Embraer officials had paid commissions to middlemen in order to finalise similar deals in Saudi Arabia. The US Justice Department has been scrutinising Embraer’s deal with India.

The newspaper report claimed that the Brazil based company came under the US scanner after the US Justice Department smelled a rat in 2010 following the former’s contract with the Dominican Republic.

In 2008, a $208 million deal with Embraer was signed by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) for three ERJ-145 aircraft to build indigenous Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems for the Indian Air Force. The three aircraft were to serve as an air-borne radar system known as airborne early-warning and control systems or AEWCS for the Indian Air Force.

Significantly, the Embraer deal reminds one of the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scam due to the many similarities. Both Embraer and Augusta deals were inked when S.P. Tyagi was the Air Force chief and A.K. Antony was the Defence Minister. 

Both deals were cleared between 2008 and 2010 despite alternative options being available. In both deals, UK based middlemen and aircraft company officials are allegedly involved.