India changes legal team in Finmeccanica trial

No team came from India for Tuesday’s hearing at Busto Arsieio near Milan

September 18, 2013 01:56 am | Updated November 16, 2021 10:19 pm IST - BUSTO ARSIEIO (ITALY)

India has decided to change its legal team in the Finmeccanica trial now under way in this northern Italian satellite town close to the country’s financial and economic capital, Milan.

The Indian government has jettisoned Loriana Porsi in favour of Arianna Carlotti, who works for a major legal firm with offices in Rome and Milan. Ms. Carlotti has wide experience in the legal field, it is learnt.

No team came from India for Tuesday’s hearing; New Delhi was represented by its new Consul-General in Milan, Manish Prabhat, who took charge just a month ago.

The trial concerns a Rs.3,726-crore deal for the sale of VVIP helicopters by Finmeccanica and its subsidiary AgustaWestland to India. On the bench of the accused are Guiseppe Orsi, former CEO of Finmeccanica, the Italian armaments giant, and Bruno Spagniolini, former Managing Director of AgustaWestland.

Mr. Orsi was arrested on charges of international corruption, bribery and billing fraud over the sale of 12 AgustaWestland helicopters to India and spent 80 days in preventive detention. Mr. Spagnolini faces similar charges, but has been under house arrest. In all, two Swiss middlemen, Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, were paid commissions totalling some €56 million through an elaborate system of fake billing using fictitious IT companies based in Mauritius and Tunisia.

“No move has been made yet by Indian authorities to arrest any of the Tyagi brothers despite the fact that India has now become a civil party to the trial,” sources said. A lawyers’ strike against the closure of several small provincial courts and the creation of a single large court to handle all the cases of the region curtailed the audience on Tuesday.

All the lawyers were present in court out of respect but argued their inability to plead because of the strike. A fresh date has been fixed for October 8. There have been five trial dates so far, of which two have been vitiated by striking lawyers.

However, during the limited time the court sat in session, Public Prosecutor Eugenio Fusco asked permission of the court’s president, Toni Adet Novik, to begin producing witnesses. But defence lawyers argued that none of the witnesses listed by the prosecution could be traced and demanded a full list of names with their telephone numbers.

Several wiretapped conversations, particularly those in English, had not been transcribed in the charge sheet prepared by the opposition. Several times there is no transcription at all, except for the words “conversation in English,” advocate Bassi, appearing for Mr. Spagnioligni, complained to the court.

The judge ruled that on October 8, two bilingual experts would be present and would be able to translate the original English conversations. Several persons close to the trial expressed surprise that despite the evidence now in Indian hands and the highly critical report published by the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG), the CBI, which is investigating the matter, had failed to file charge sheets against the main Indian suspects, the former Air Chief Marshal, Shashi Tyagi, and his cousins Juli, Docsa and Sandip Tyagi, or others suspected of involvement in the case.

The CBI has not made any arrests or cooperated in any significant way with the authorities in Italy, the sources said.

The CAG report said the Indian Air Force (IAF) had failed to respect norms and procedures laid down by law. The CAG report, which has been tabled in Parliament, said changes in the specifications for the helicopters and delays, coupled with non-respect of norms, had created a single vendor situation. There has been a controversy over the CAG report since AgustaWestland said the helicopter was not in the process of development at the time of field trials as alleged by the CAG. The IAF, too, has attacked the report, saying the CAG had failed to properly estimate or understand technical specifications.

However, sources in Busto Arsizio expressed surprise that so little progress had been made. The CAG report contains a great deal of very specific information that should be acted upon. It even traces the entire chronology, indicating who was so and where and when the specifications were changed. The Prosecutor has sent rogatory letters to the Indian government asking for a full explanation of the tender process followed in this instance.

The benchmarked cost adopted by the contract negotiating committee was unreasonably higher than the offer cost, the auditors’ report said. Hence it provided no realistic basis for obtaining an assurance about the reasonableness of the cost of procurement of AW101 helicopters. The purchase of the helicopters was started by the NDA government in 2003. Three years later, the specifications for the helicopter were altered, knocking out other competitors from the race, including the Sikorsky helicopter which was tested in the U.S. in 2008. The UPA government approved the changed specifications in 2010. The IAF and the Ministry of Defence have contested most of the allegations in the CAG report. These allegations will now be examined by the Public Accounts Committee.

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