HYDERABAD: At a time when defence purchases have come under the scanner following Army chief Gen V K Singh’s stunning revelations, another controversy seems to be brewing. This time, it is the $700 million deal to acquire 12 choppers for VVIPs from the Anglo-Italian firm Augusta Westland. Sikorsky Aircraft manufacturer, the only other contender, which was eliminated before the commercial bidding, said there was conclusive evidence of financial irregularities. “There’s enough conclusive evidence. Let the law take its own course. The ministry has ordered a probe and the law of the land should prevail,” a senior official from Sikorsky told Express.
Augusta Westland won the contract for the choppers -- to be used by the president, Prime Minister and other top government functionaries -- after its AW 101 edged out Sikorsky’s S-92 Superhawk. Incidentally, Sikorsky has a S-92 helicopter cabin manufacturing facility in Hyderabad and, according to industry sources, its choppers are economical, considering local assembly and production.
Comments from within Sikorsky come at a time when Italian prosecutors are investigating allegations of corruption against state-backed defence major Finmeccanica, the parent firm of Augusta Westland. Subsequently, the defence ministry initiated a probe into the deal last month and a final report is awaited.
Meanwhile, this was not the first time that the deal has run into trouble. In 2009, the finance ministry had objected to high price of the choppers. Later in Feb, 2010, MoD issued a Letter of Intent (LoI) to Augusta Westland. However, even after two years, government is yet to give a go-ahead to Augusta Westland. “The delay is only procedural, and has nothing to do with concerns from other ministries,” minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju recently said.