Augusta Westland deal: Govt pursuing allegations of bribery
New Delhi: Government is pursuing the allegations of bribery in a deal to procure VVIP helicopters from Augusta Westland, but no formal inquiry has been ordered into the case due to lack of "specific information" so far, Defence Minister AK Antony on Monday said.
In a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha, he said, if any wrongdoing is found in the case, "suitable penalty measures" will be taken by the ministry.
"Defence Ministry is constantly pursuing the matter and committed to take suitable penalty measures in event of allegations being substantiated. However, in absence of any specific information in this regard, government has not ordered any formal inquiry into the case so far," he said.
India has signed a contract with Augusta Westland- a subsidiary of Italian Finmeccanica Group- for procuring 12 helicopters (eight VVIP version) at a total cost of Euro 556.262 million. The deliveries of the choppers are scheduled between January to July 2013, Antony said.
He said the reports of alleged kickbacks to Indian officials came to the notice of Defence Ministry following media reports, suggesting alleged unethical dealings by Finmeccanica and the probe into the Indian contract by Italian prosecutors.
On follow-up action by Indian government, Antony said, "The Embassy of India took up the matter with government of Italy for their official position and intimated us that they have no official position on the issue in view of independence of judiciary and Italian prosecutors being neither under the executive nor accountable to it."
He also told the House that a response received from Finmeccanica on its internal audit was "inconclusive and does not bring out any concrete fact to draw a conclusion."
Antony further informed the House that the Indian Embassy in Rome had also taken up the matter with Naples Prosecutor's office, but, "no feedback has been received so far in this regard."
The minister also said that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has been requested to take up the matter with Italian government to seek information whether any middleman was involved in the contract and if there was any involvement of any Indian individual or entity in the deal.
"The Italian Ambassador in India was also summoned by the MEA and a copy of the Aide Memoire has also been handed over to him," the reply said.
Antony also told the House that as per the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) an integrity pact needs to be signed between the buyers and the bidders for all procurement schemes over Rs 100 crore.
He added that provisions are in place to check the role of middlemen and ensure highest degree of probity, public accountability and transparency in defence acquisition cases.
Noting that the present contract contains the standard clause relating to penalties for use of undue influence, Antony said, "Any breach of these provisions entitles the Defence Ministry to cancel the contract and all of any other contract with the company."