India seeks info from Italy on copter deal

Allegations of kickback and involvement of middlemen

India has demanded a prompt answer on the allegation of kick-back and involvement of middlemen in the 560 million Euro (approximately Rs 3500 crore) contract to buy 12 VVIP helicopters after summoning the Italian ambassador here on Wednesday.

Secretary (West) gave an aide-memoire (informal diplomatic message) to the Italian ambassador on Wednesday underlying the importance of promptly responding to the Indian request with information, Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs said here.

Though the Indian ambassador in Rome earlier approached Italian authorities seeking information on the allegations of kick-backs in the VVIP copter deal, there is barely any response from Italy so far.

In 2010 India signed a contract with Italian arms major Agusta Westland to acquire 12 VVIP choppers for the Indian Air Force.

Allegations of kick back in the Indian deal surfaced when the office of public prosecutors in Naples claimed to have unearthed certain vital information related to the Indian deal while probing a different matter.

 Following media reports on irregularities in the contract for 12 helicopters, the defence ministry stated last week that the Italian government was requested to provide details of the existence, if any, of any middlemen or any individual or Indian entity in the above mentioned contract.

At the same time, the defence ministry asked the Italian government to provide the name and documents relating to the alleged involvement of a Brigadier in the ongoing process for the acquisition of 197 Light Utility Helicopters for the Indian Army

“The ministry will take strong action against the offenders detected through this probe,” said Sitanshu Kar, Spokesperson, Ministry of Defence. Agusta Westland on its part said that it had not committed any form of irregularity during the tender for the supply of AW101 helicopters to the Indian defence ministry.

The first helicopter is supposed to arrive in December 2012 and the entire lot is scheduled to be delivered by 2013.

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