The Centre on Monday said though it was pursuing allegations of bribery in a deal on purchase of 12 helicopters for the use of VVIPs, no formal inquiry had been ordered due to lack of specific information so far.
In a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said his Ministry was pursuing the matter and was committed to taking suitable penalty measures if the allegations were substantiated . “However, in the absence of any specific information in this regard, government has not ordered any formal inquiry into the case so far.” .
India has signed a contract with Augusta Westland — a subsidiary of the Italian Finmeccanica Group — for the purchase of 12 helicopters (eight VVIP versions) at a total cost of 556.262 million Euros. The deliveries were scheduled to be made between January and July 2013, Mr. Antony said.
He said the reports of alleged kickbacks to Indian officials came to the notice of Defence Ministry following media reports that suggested alleged unethical dealings by Finmeccanica and reported the probe into the contract by Italian prosecutors.
On the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) request the Indian Embassy took up the matter with Italy which “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,” the Minister said.
He said Finmeccanica’s response to its internal audit was also “inconclusive and does not bring out any concrete fact to draw a conclusion.’’ Further, the Indian embassy in Rome had also taken up the matter with the Naples Prosecutor’s office, but “no feedback has been received so far in this regard.”
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has been requested to take up the matter with the Italian government and seek information on whether any middleman was involved in the contract and if any Indian individual or entity was involved . “The Italian Ambassador in India was also summoned by the MEA and a copy of the aide memoire has also been handed over to him,” Mr. Antony said. He 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. Provisions were in place to check the role of middlemen and ensure the highest degree of probity, public accountability and transparency in defence acquisition cases, he added.
The Defence Minister said the deal in question contained the standard clause on penalties for the use of undue influence and against employment of agents and agency commission. “Any breach of these provisions entitles the Defence Ministry to cancel the contract and all of any other contract with the company and recover the amount of any loss arising from such cancellations.”