The row over the British-built VVIP helicopter deal could prove embarrassing for Prime Minister David Cameron when he lands in India on Monday hoping to have another go at selling the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft which lost out to a French rival last year.
AgustaWestland, the U.K. subsidiary of Italy’s Finmeccanica which is at the centre of an alleged bribery scandal, has already been issued a show-cause notice by India’s Defence Ministry asking it to explain its role within a week, and could be blacklisted if New Delhi is not satisfied with its explanation.
A British citizen Christian Michel has reportedly been named as one of the alleged middlemen involved in the deal. According to media reports, his name appears in the Italian arrest warrant that led to the arrest of Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi.
A British official was reported as saying that Britain “stands ready” to help in any investigation amid suggestions that India was not satisfied with the company’s response so far and wanted a “fuller” explanation.
The helicopters are built at AgustaWestland’s plant in Somerset and if the Indian deal is cancelled hundreds of its workers stand to lose their jobs. The Times newspaper said if AgustaWestland was to “blacklisted” in India it would destroy “the group’s prospects in a fast-growing market.”
Commentators said that Mr. Cameron must be kicking himself over the timing of his visit whose main purpose is to push for access for British businesses to the Indian market. There were fears that his visit could be overshadowed by the AgustaWestland row.
“AgustaWestland will be the elephant in the room as he tries to bat for British companies,” one commentator said.
Mr. Cameron, who will be accompanied by a large business delegation, is expected to make a renewed bid for the Eurofighter when he meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The Guardian reported a British government source as saying that “[Francois] Hollande was in India this week and a deal [for Dassault Rafale] has not been signed so we will want to find out from the Indians how their talks are progressing with the French.”