Did one arm of the government not take any action despite knowing Finmeccanica might have violated the integrity pact it had signed with the government of India?
This is what the ministry of defence (MoD)’s note on the helicopter purchase deal implies. It suggests an innate governance/administrative flaw in the purchase of defence equipment. This was exacerbated by the fact that while the MoD repeatedly asked the ministry of external affairs (MEA) to act, the MEA kept saying it couldn’t.
When asked if the ministry had anything to say in the matter, an MEA spokesman said, “No. If we have any inter-ministerial issues, we always follow established procedures to address those.”
According to the MoD statement released yesterday, irregularities in procurement were first reported in Italian newspapers in February 2012. Alarmed, the MoD had written to the MEA immediately. The note said the following day, “DG(Acq) in MoD sought a factual report in the matter from our embassy in Rome”. It didn’t state whether the MEA replied to this or not.
Finmeccanica, however, was immediately spurred into action; it wrote to the MoD the bribery reports were unfounded.
Unconvinced, the MoD again wrote to the MEA in April, asking it to check if the charges were correct. In May, the Indian embassy in Rome replied it was impossible to secure the complete facts from the government of Italy, as the matter was sub judice. In July, the MoD suggested the MEA directly contact judicial authorities in Rome. Then, the note suggests, the MEA had to act. In July, it contacted the prosecutor’s office in Naples. Dissatisfied with the limited information, in October, the defence secretary wrote to the secretary (west) in the MEA, possibly because he felt the matter needed to be brought to the notice of his seniors, asking for facts so that the MoD could take action.
The note says the MEA replied it had spoken to the Italian government and was awaiting a response. The MoD said as a British national (Christian Michael) was involved, it might be possible the British government was aware of the matter. In November, the MEA said the British government was waiting for the Italians to act.
Thus, an independent verification of facts by the Indian government fell between the cracks in the meandering correspondence between the MEA and the MoD — until the arrest of Finmeccanica chief executive Giuseppe Orsi and the revelation that several Indians were involved in the overall scheme of things.