Government pursuing bribery claims in chopper deal
By Express News Service | Published: 27th November 2012 09:12 AM |
The Centre is looking into the allegations of kickbacks offered to middlemen, including Indian nationals, in the procurement of VVIP helicopters from Augusta Westland, however, no official inquiry has been ordered due to lack of specific information, Union Defence Minister A K Antony told Lok Sabha on Monday.
India has signed a contract with Augusta Westland, a subsidiary of Italian Finmeccanica Group, for procuring 12 helicopters, AW 101 model at a total cost of Euro 556.262 million. Interrogation of a former employee, Borgogni Lorenzo, by Italian investigators had revealed that kickbacks to the tune of Euro 51 million were paid by the company using circuitous international banking routes. Widening the probe, the Italian investigators are looking into role of 15 people, including three Indians, in the case. In a written reply, Antony said, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would take suitable penalty measures, if any wrongdoing is found in the case. “Defence Ministry is constantly pursuing the matter and committed to take suitable penalty measures in event of allegations being substantiated,” he said.
The VVIP helicopters, which are scheduled to be delivered to India between January and July 2013, were embroiled in a controversy after Italian investigators interrogated Lorenzo on November 15, 2011. Lorenzo, who was handling external affairs division of the Augusta Westland’s parent company Finmeccanica had alleged that Augusta Westland paid Euro 41 million to mediators as commission which was later raised to 51 million Euros. After Lorenzo’s claim, Italian investigators had put under scanner suspects named by him in the kickback case, including key player Guido Ralph Haschke, a Swiss businessman, who allegedly played the major role in the deal.
Antony told the House that the government noticed the alleged unethical deal after media reported about the probe and subsequent trial in Italy. However, the response from Finmeccanica through official channel on its internal audit was inconclusive and does not bring out any concrete fact to draw a conclusion.
“The Embassy of India took up the matter with the government of Italy for their official position and intimated us that they have no official position on the issue in view of independence of judiciary and Italian prosecutors being neither under the executive nor accountable to it,” Antony said.
However, during the course of investigation, CEO of Augusta Westland Bruno Spagnolini had denied kickback allegations saying there was no consulting or mediation contracts by the company.