The Indian government and its investigating agencies, essentially the police and the CBI, won a significant victory in the district court in this Milanese suburb as Presiding Judge Toni Adet Novik swept aside arguments by defence lawyers and accorded India the status of a civil party in the multi-million dollar corruption trial involving the sale of AgustaWestland helicopters to India.
This means the CBI will finally be able to access the 120 massive folders of evidence against the main accused, Giuseppe Orsi, former chairman and chief executive of Italy’s military-industrial giant Finmeccanica, and Bruno Spagnolini, who headed its helicopter arm, AgustaWestland. The scandal also involves former Air Chief, Shashi Tyagi, his cousins Sandeep, Juli and Docsa Tyagi, and Swiss nationals Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, who allegedly conspired to change the specifications for 12 helicopters for VVIP flights so that AgustaWestland could win the contract.
The Presiding Judge was also receptive to Prosecutor Eugenio Fosco’s arguments that the trial should dispense with preliminary hearings and directly examine documentary evidence and wiretaps before questioning witnesses. The next date has been fixed for July 4.
Defence lawyer Ennio Amodio, acting on behalf of Mr. Orsi, told The Hindu that the judge’s decision to allow India to be represented as a civil party “is eminently political.” Both Professor Amodio and advocate Massimo Bassi, who pleaded for Mr. Spagnoglini, questioned the powers that could be exercised by India’s Deputy Chief of Mission in Rome Ravi Shankar, acting on behalf of the Government of India or its Ministry of Defence. The newly arrived Indian Ambassador, Basant Kumar Gupta, is yet to present his credentials.
The judge called the two lawyers to his chambers for a private discussion before announcing his decision.
The defence lawyers also argued against the “immediate” status given to the trial, which allows for direct examination of the evidence without lengthy preliminary arguments.
“In my opinion, this is completely illegitimate and unconstitutional,” Professor Amodio told The Hindu. “The prosecutor’s office took all the time in the world to complete this enquiry. The Rogatory Letters were sent by his office only last April 15. The defence was barely given a month to look at the mountain of evidence contained in these huge 120 folders. To deny preliminary arguments in such a case amounts to denial of justice and is illegitimate in my view,” he said.