Allegations of graft in the multi-crore VVIP chopper deal cast a shadow on the India-UK talks on Tuesday, with PM Manmohan Singh getting assurance of “full assistance” from visiting British PM David Cameron on obtaining information related to possible “unethical practices” employed by AgustaWestland.
UK comes into the picture as AgustaWestland had been an Anglo-Italian company till 2004, when Italian firm Finmeccanica acquired the other 50 percent stake of the British firm GKN - turning it into a fully-owned subsidiary. Advertising itself as an example of exemplary British engineering, AgustaWestland manufactures its helicopters at Somerset, where it employees over 3,200 people. The cancellation of the contract for the delivery of 12 choppers will expectedly hit the production unit adversely.
According to sources, UK has asked the Indian side if it has enough proof of ‘wrongdoing’, before asking for more information on AgustaWestland.
India has already been in touch with the UK government over the matter, but the British side had only given an “interim response” that it was waiting for investigations in Italy to be fully completed.
Meanwhile, Cameron is reported to have pushed again for India to reconsider the Eurofighter over the French Rafaele for the Indian Air Force’s $12 billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) project. India had already said that Rafale had won the race, but British hopes were raised as the negotiations for the contract are getting protracted.
But, a reflection of India’s disinterest in the British pitch was evident by the absence of Defence Minister A K Antony at the delegation-level bilateral talks.