Following the ordering of a CBI probe into the supply of VVIP helicopters by Italian firm Finmeccanica, the delivery schedule of the choppers is likely to be affected. The first three of the 12 AW VVIP choppers have already arrived in India and the rest were originally expected to be supplied to the IAF by the middle of next year.
Taking note of media reports on Italian prosecutors having initiated a probe into the alleged unethical dealings of Finmeccanica, the Defence Ministry said that through the Ministry of External Affairs it had earlier sought information from the Government of Italy and UK. “No specific inputs were, however, received substantiating the allegations,” the MoD said in a statement.
The statement said the contract signed with M/s AgustaWestland included specific contractual provisions against bribery and the use of undue influence as well as an Integrity Pact. “Since no specific input has been received so far from the two governments, MoD has decided to refer the case to CBI for inquiry,” it said.
After the arrest of its CEO, the Italian firm said in a statement that “Finmeccanica expresses support for its Chairman and CEO, with the hope that clarity is established quickly, whilst reaffirming its confidence in the Judges.” Agency reports said that police searched Orsi’s home and the defence contractor’s offices in Milan on Tuesday. The company is approximately 30 per cent owned by the Italian state.
The Finmeccanica group has been under probe in Italy for the past three years for allegedly paying bribes in different countries and at home. However, the company has refuted the charges.
The AgustaWestland chopper deal has been under the scanner for the past one year. Mr. Antony had told Parliament last November that if any wrongdoing was found in the deal, “suitable penalty measures” would be taken by the Ministry. In February of last year, Mr. Antony had asked the Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma to inquire into the allegations.
“Defence Ministry is constantly pursuing the matter and committed to take suitable penalty measures in event of allegations being substantiated. However, in absence of any specific information in this regard, government has not ordered any formal inquiry into the case so far,” he had told Lok Sabha in a written reply.
Mr. Antony said the Embassy of India took up the matter with government of Italy for their official position. “The embassy intimated us that they [the Italian government] 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.”
The Minister also said that the MEA had been requested to take up the matter with the Italian government to seek information on whether any middleman was involved in the contract and if there was any involvement of an Indian individual or entity in the deal.
Mr. Antony had also told the House that as per the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) an integrity pact needs to be signed between the buyers and the bidders for all procurement schemes over Rs 100 crore.
Meanwhile, the opposition BJP demanded that the UPA government give an explanation about the reported anomalies in the helicopter deal.