Chopper scam: Bribery trial of ex-Finmeccanica CEO opens in Italy



Milan: The former head of Italian aerospace and defense giant Finmeccanica, accused by prosecutors of making bribery part of the company culture, went on trial today for his alleged role in the payment of bribes to secure a crucial 560 million euro (USD 670 million) helicopter contract in India.

Giuseppe Orsi, who resigned in February, faces charges of fraud and corruption in a case that has tarnished the international image of the state-controlled company and jeopardized the defense contractor's attempts to expand into the lucrative Indian military market.

Also on trial is Bruno Spagnolini, the former chief executive of AgustaWestland, the defense contractor's helicopter division.

Prosecutor Eugenio Fusco allege that two men presided oversaw a system of bribery and corruption that was part "of the company philosophy," according to his arrest warrant for the men.

Orsi was head of AgustaWestland at the time the contract was signed in 2010, and became CEO of Finmeccanica in 2011 when a separate corruption probe led to the ouster of his predecessor. Spagnolini replaced Orsi at AgustaWestland.

The court on the first day of trial admitted both the government of India and the Italian tax office as injured parties in the case. This allows them to participate in questioning witnesses and to seek damages in the event of a guilty verdict.

Orsi has denied wrongdoing, while Spagnolini has not commented publicly. Defendants in Italy are not required to appear their own trials and neither attended the opening session.

Both Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland deny any wrongdoing and have said they are cooperating with investigators.

Orsi's lawyer, Ennio Amodio, said his client intends to attend future hearings to prove there was no illegal dealings for the helicopter contract. Amodio has said in the past that Orsi was in the process of bringing more transparency to the company.

"He is convinced that he can demonstrate that those helicopters were purchased because they are the best," Amodio said. Orsi was jailed for some 80 days during the investigation before being released pending trial in early May. Spagnolini was released from house arrest at the same time.

PTI