VVIP chopper deal: Italy rejects India’s request for probe details

India`s efforts to access information on the helicopter scam received a setback with an Italian court rejecting a request for documents related to the deal.

Last Updated: Feb 17, 2013, 10:14 AM IST

New Delhi: India`s efforts to access information on the helicopter scam received a setback on Saturday with an Italian court rejecting a request for documents related to the deal even as CBI and Defence Ministry teams prepared to travel to Rome to gather evidence.

AgustaWestland, which has been issued a show-cause notice by the Defence Ministry for cancellation of the Rs 3,600 crore deal, on Saturday promised to address all the points raised by the Indian government.

Meanwhile, Guissepe Orsi, the CEO of Finmeccanica, the holding company of AgustaWestland, has denied knowing the family of former IAF chief Shashi Tyagi, who has been accused of taking bribes.

Orsi`s lawyer Ennio Amodio went a step further telling Indian TV channels that "there was nothing substantiated regarding the actual conduct of Mr Shashi Tyagi”.

There was bad news for the Government as the court in Milan hearing the case refused to share any details saying it was "not possible to give a positive reply" to the Indian request.

The Indian embassy in Rome had made the request for details and documents of the probe on February 13 after the arrest of Orsi in connection with allegations that kickbacks to the tune of Rs 360 crore were paid in the Rs 3,600 crore deal, sources said here today.

The communication was received by the Indian embassy in Rome from the Judge of Preliminary Investigations of the Tribunal Busto Arsizio Luca Labianca. In the letter, the judge said, "The investigations were, in fact, at a preliminary stage, during which, as per Article 329 of code of Penal Procedure, all information are covered by secrecy. Only parties and their lawyers were allowed to have access to the information and documents."

The Italian judge told the Indian embassy that his office will consider a "fresh request" from the Indian side once the secrecy obligations into the matter get over.

Amid the major uproar here, the Indian government has already ordered a CBI probe into the case and has threatened to scrap the deal.

Meanwhile, a CBI team comprising a DIG-level officer and a law officer besides officers from the Defence Ministry will leave for Rome to gather details on the issue.

Defence Ministry`s Joint Secretary and Acquisition Manager (Air) Arun Kumar Bal will also leave for Italy on Monday to try to get as much information as possible related to the facts of the deal.

The Defence Ministry yesterday sent a show-cause notice to AgustaWestland asking why the contract should not be cancelled in view of the corruption allegations against it. It sought a reply within seven days.

Commenting on the issue, the Italian firm said, "Indian authorities have not cancelled the contract but have requested some clarifications within seven days. AgustaWestland is preparing its answer to timely meet the Indian authorities` request."

On the investigations into the case in Italy, the firm said, "AgustaWestland is confident that the full compliance with the law of its conduct and the conduct of its past and present senior executives and managers will be demonstrated soon.”

Meanwhile, the CAG has sent a draft report on the VVIP helicopter procurement to the Defence Ministry for comments. Meanwhile, the Italian court Tribunale de Busto Arsizio will begin the hearing of the helicopter scam on Monday in which Orsi and AgustaWestland CEO Spagnolini have been arrested.

Both were arrested in the early part of the week by the Italian police in connection with the Rs 362-crore kickbacks scam for supplying 12 AW-101 choppers to India.

The company has already supplied three choppers to India which are based at the Hindan air base near here. The Defence Ministry has put on hold the delivery of the remaining nine choppers expected to have been delivered by the middle of next years.

It has also stopped further payments to AgustaWestland for the remaining nine helicopters. The Defence Ministry has said that even at this stage, India can get back its money with interest.