The curious case of Chandigarh firms in VVIP chopper deal

The names of two Chandigarh-based companies have emerged in the controversy around the $750 million VVIP chopper deal with Italian company Finmeccanica, which was supplying the AgustaWestland helicopters to India.

The names of Aero-Matrix Info Solutions Private Limited, based in DLF building in Chandigarh's Rajiv Gandhi Technology Park, and IDS Infotech, which is based in Mohali, near Chandigarh, have figured in the media in the VVIP chopper deal controversy.

The AgustaWestland chopper deal, for which the defence ministry has now initiated the process for its cancellation, is in the eye of the storm over the alleged payment of around 51 million euro as kickbacks paid by Finmeccanica to companies and high-profile people in India to clinch the deal.

The bribe payments, as investigated by the Italian investigating agency, were allegedly routed to India through two companies - IDS Tunisia and IDS Mauritius.

Investigating agencies are yet to establish the curious link between the IDS in Tunisia and Mauritius and IDS Infotech here.

The balance sheets of IDS Infotech do provide a link with IDS Tunisia.

Aero-Matrix was set up here in 2007 with Parveen Bakshi as its chief executive officer (CEO). Before this, Bakshi was working with IDS Infotech, which has Chandigarh-based entrepreneur Pratap Aggarwal as its managing director. Aggarwal is an active member of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Bakshi told the media here: "We are only an engineering service provider (to AgustaWestland). We are not concerned with the (bribery) allegations."

However, one of the two foreign directors of Aero-Matrix, Guido Ralph Haschke, who is Switzerland-based, is being investigated by the Italian agency on bribery charges in the deal.

Aero-Matrix records also show links to Mauritius-based Infotech Design Systems Limited.

IDS Infotech has Satish Bagrodia, a former president of the PHD Chamber of Commerce (PHDCC) as chairman. His son, Manish Bagrodia, is also a director at IDS Infotech.

Bagrodia's office told media Friday that he had nothing to do with the controversy since IDS Infotech was managed by Pratap Aggarwal. Efforts to reach Pratap Aggarwal failed.

The defence ministry Friday said it had "initiated action for cancellation of contract for procurement of 12 AW101 helicopters for the use of VVIPs".

It also issued a formal show cause notice to AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, seeking cancellation of contract and "taking other actions as per the terms of the contract and the Integrity Pact". The company has been given seven days to reply.

The action comes a day after the government warned Finmeccanica of legal action, including blacklisting, and asked whether any slush money had been paid to fix the deal that has led to a political uproar.

The defence procurement scam came to light when the Italian government arrested Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi Tuesday for allegedly paying bribes to clinch the chopper deal. The government launched a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the bribery charges on Tuesday.

India has inducted only three of the 12 AgustaWestland-101 helicopters till now, with the remaining nine slated for delivery later this year. India is so far reported to have paid part of the total amount to AgustaWestland, the Britain-based subsidiary of Finmeccanica.

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