Chopper deal: joint probe team departure delayed again, likely to leave for Italy tomorrow

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 18, 2013 07:00 hrs

New Delhi: A joint probe team comprising a senior investigating officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and a law officer alongwith officials of ministry of defence is likely to leave for Italy on Tuesday to probe the allegations of kickbacks in the Rs. 3,760 crore deal for the 12 AgustaWestland 101 choppers, a report said.

Official sources said the team would meet Italian prosecutors to ascertain the details of the case.

He said a lawyer is likely to be engaged in Italy to help the team understand the Italian law, represent India's case with the local courts, and expedite the process of getting documents.

The defence ministry is also sending a senior joint secretary to Italy "to gather as much evidence as possible" relating to the allegations of corruption in the acquisition of the helicopters for the VVIP use by the Indian Air Force.

Sources said that the defence ministry official and the CBI team were likely to travel together to Italy.

Kickbacks in the helicopter deal with AgustaWestland, a Britain-based subsidiary of Italian firm Finmeccanica.

They said the investigating agency has so far not registered a case as it wants to get more information about the kickbacks and establish authenticity of documents.

The sources said the CBI was handed over a letter from the defence ministry seeking a probe which also contained some press clippings.

Rejecting charges that it was not proactive in probing allegations of kickbacks in the chopper deal, the government on Sunday said it would act only according to the law and not to please the Opposition in this case.

External affairs minister Salman Khurshid also dismissed suggestions that the alleged scam was "Bofors-Part II" saying the Opposition should understand that most of the allegations in the Bofors case were rejected by the Supreme Court.

He also said said India was in touch with authorities in Italy over the case and suggested that Italy was a better place to probe since the firm that produces choppers operates out of that country.

"Well, if someone is probing it you let them probe it. Should you have your own probe when someone else is probing which is probably better place to probe because that is where the production takes place and that is where the offices are.

"We obviously remained in touch with them and expected that they would keep us informed at an appropriate stage (and give information) that we will use it," he said in response to a question on why India did not probe the alleged scam.

Asked whether he suggests that India will not pro-actively probe the case, he said there was nothing called pro-active.

"There is such a thing as lawful. Whatever has to be done by law should be done and I don't think that we should do anything that is done to please the Opposition or because somebody puts pressure on us. What is lawfully required and what is lawfully justified is what will be done," he said.

On the other hand, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has also sought a report from the ministry on alleged irregularities in the chopper deal.

The helicopter deal with AgustaWestland could come up during discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron who is arriving India Monday.

Britain has told India that it wanted to wait for the investigation in Italy to be completed.

The government has already put on hold the deal and launched the process to cancel it amid allegations that kickbacks of 51 million euro (approx $68 mn) were paid to clinch the deal.

It has also issued a show cause notice to AgustaWestland as to why the contract should not be scrapped in view of the corruption allegations.

AgustaWestland has said it was preparing to clarify the points raised by the Indian government.

The helicopters were for the IAF's elite Communication Squadron, which ferries the president, the prime minister and other VVIPs.

The IAF had sought the choppers as a replacement for its ageing Mi-17 cargo helicopters that were modified for VVIP use. Three of the 12 AgustaWestland helicopters have already been supplied.

Italian agencies on Tuesday arrested Finmeccanica chief executive officer (CEO) Giuseppe Orsi for alleged corruption to seal the deal.

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