UK to help in VVIP chopper scam probe

Manmohan conveys to Cameron very serious concerns over graft allegations against AgustaWestland
Last Updated 19 February 2013, 20:43 IST

After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed to British counterpart David Cameron India’s “very serious concerns” over allegations of bribery against AgustaWestland, London on Tuesday finally agreed to help New Delhi probe into the Anglo-Italian company’s deal to supply 12 civilian helicopters to the Indian Air Force.


Cameron told Singh that the British government would “respond to any request” by India for information on the allegation that the AgustaWestland had resorted to unethical means to get the contract for supplying helicopters to the Indian Air Force.

The assurance came after Singh conveyed to Cameron India’s “very serious concerns regarding allegations about unethical means used in securing the 2010 contract for AgustaWestland helicopters” and sought “full assistance” from the British government.
India’s earlier requests to the UK for information on AgustaWestland did not yield much, as the British government maintained that it would wait for the outcome of the investigation launched against the firm’s parent company Finmeccanica in Italy.

“I told him (Cameron) that we have sought an explanation from the company by February 22 to examine if the contractual provisions on unethical practices and the Integrity Pact have been violated. I have sought full assistance from the UK in this case,” Singh said after a meeting with Cameron, who is currently on a tour to India. He also said that Cameron had assured him of the cooperation of the British government in the investigations.

“In terms of AgustaWestland... we will respond to any requests for information. I am glad the Italian authorities are looking into this issue in detail as Finmeccanica is an Italian company, a parent company of AgustaWestland,” said Cameron.

“Let me make it absolutely clear that in Britain, we have introduced anti-bribery legislation that is probably the strongest anywhere in the world and will root out any problem of bribery or corruption whenever and wherever they appear.”

The probe in Italy last Monday led to the arrest of Finmeccanica’s chief executive officer Giuseppe Orsi in Milan. He was arrested in connection with a probe into the allegation that AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, had paid bribes in India to secure the contract for supplying the Indian Air Force 12 AW-101 helicopters, which were to be used to fly around the president, the prime minister and other VVIPs.

The High Commission of India in London had “in the recent past” sent a communiqué to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British government, enquiring if the latter had initiated any probe into the allegations that the AgustaWestland had resorted to unfair practices to win the contracts for supply of helicopters to the Indian Air Force.

Senior diplomats from the High Commission had also met the British government officials to discuss about it. The UK had given an “interim response” to queries from India and stated that it would wait for the outcome of the investigation launched in Italy.

“Excellent company”

The BBC on Monday quoted Cameron stating in Mumbai that AgustaWestland was “an excellent company, with highly skilled workers”, who made “brilliant helicopters”.
The British government in October 2012 selected the company for a stimulus of GBP 46 million.

The controversy over the chopper deal and possibility of the Indian government cancelling the contract sparked fears of job loss in the UK, which is struggling to come out of economic recession.

The AgustaWestland has a helicopter manufacturing facility at Yeovil in South Somerset district of England. The company claims on its website that it employs more than 3,280 direct employees in the UK and indirectly supports around 10,000 jobs with more than 845 suppliers—including 650 small and medium sized enterprises and micro businesses—across the country.

(Published 19 February 2013, 08:38 IST)

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