Starting last week, a series of reports in The Indian Express have revealed that Italian investigators are probing allegations that AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica, allegedly paid 51 million euros as kickbacks in the Rs 3,546 crore deal for 12 AW 101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force.
The deal was signed in 2010 after a bidding process in which Russia’s Kazan and American Sikorsky also participated. AgustaWestland has said it has not committed any irregularity in the deal. But the Italian police probe names at least three Indians among 15 people in connection with the alleged kickbacks and money laundering. Taped conversations of the alleged middleman in the deal also indicate that 10-15 million euros of the commission may have been routed to India.
While looking for evidence in the VVIP chopper deal, Italian investigators allegedly stumbled upon papers on an Indian Army deal to buy 197 helicopters, and they included a letter which claims an Indian Army Brigadier demanded
$ 5 million to swing the deal.
“Given the serious nature of allegations appearing in the media, the government has taken a serious note of the reports,” MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said when asked for an update on the government’s position on the case.
“To emphasise the importance, secretary (west) in the MEA, Madhusudan Ganapathi, had called in the Italian ambassador yesterday, and also provided him an aide-memoire impressing upon them the importance of responding to our request for information,” he said. An aide-mémoire is a non-paper sent informally to countries for discussions and acts as a reminder.
The move came after the Indian ambassador in Rome raised the case with Italian authorities on October 29, “and impressed upon them the importance we place on receiving the information related to Indian nationals or Indian entities or any middlemen who may have been involved”, Akbaruddin said.
Both in Rome and in New Delhi, “the feedback was they do understand the importance the government of India places on this. They will communicate this to the concerned officials who handle this, and will revert to us at an early date. We look forward to that response,” he added.
New Delhi feels that since the Italian probe is being conducted by the prosecution branch, which is a part of the Italian judicial system, the Italian government has no control over it and therefore it is not able to access information being generated by the investigators.
As a result, the Indian government’s request to Rome is not expected to yield much in the short-term. It is also learnt that the Indian envoy in Rome will approach the prosecution branch directly, but it is unlikely to respond to a request from a foreign government.
Besides, AgustaWestland also cannot be forced to part with information as it is a private firm, sources said. New Delhi will therefore have to wait for the Italian judicial process to take its time before the probe documents become available.