Chopper probe: Defence official going to Italy



New Delhi: The defence ministry Saturday said it was sending senior Joint Secretary A.K. Bal to Italy to gather details on the 12 AW101 VVIP helicopters deal which got mired in allegations of kickbacks.

The move comes close on the heels of CBI setting up a two-member team to go to Italy for probing the allegations of kickbacks being paid by Italian firm Finmeccanica to clinch the $750 million/Rs.3,600 crore deal for the 12 choppers.

The defence ministry said in a statement that it was "deputing a senior joint secretary to Italy to gather as much evidence as possible relating to the allegations of corruption in the acquisition of 12 AW101 VVIP helicopters for the Indian Air Force".

Bal would be leaving for Rome by Monday.

Earlier Saturday, a two-member team of the CBI was also set up to go to Italy to probe the alleged kickbacks paid by Finmeccanica.

"The (CBI) team will have a senior Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officer and a law officer. They are likely to go to Italy within a week," an agency official told IANS.

The agency had received some documents pertaining to the case from the defence ministry Friday but was yet to register preliminary enquiry because it had to confirm the allegations of graft against Indian nationals and alleged kickbacks paid by the Italian firm, said CBI sources.

A CBI official Friday said that in view with the gravity of the case, the agency needs some more groundwork for which a team plans to go to Italy.

The CBI team had Thursday asked ministry officials to provide its files related to any sort of internal enquiry undertaken by it in connection with alleged corruption in the February 2010 deal to acquire 12 AW-101 helicopters from Finmeccanica's subsidiary AgustaWestland.

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

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

The Indian Air Force had sought the AgustaWestland choppers as a replacement for its Mi-17 cargo helicopters that were modified for VVIP deployment.

Three of the 12 helicopters that were contracted by the government have already been supplied by the manufacturers.

The CAG had critically commented on it saying it was a waste of resources.

IANS