Army officer sought $5 mn bribe: Italy probe

FP

Italian investigators probing suspected graft in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal with India say they have found what they believe are documents of another tender for Army helicopters that claim an Indian Army brigadier demanded a bribe of $5 million to swing the contract for the firm.

A 'memorandum' seized from the home of alleged middleman Guido Haschke by Italian prosecutors says the brigadier, who was in charge of the flight trials of a contract for 197 light choppers, asked for the money in January 2010, days before the trials began.

The "highly confidential" letter is part of a preliminary chargesheet filed by Italian prosecutors in a Naples court. The letter and other documents were allegedly seized on April 23.

The letter claims the brigadier "made contact" in Bangalore on January 16, 2010 and volunteered information on the progress of the contract. He allegedly shared details of the deficiencies found in the competitors for the contract — Russia's Kamov, Italian AgustaWestland and Eurocopter — and asked for the money to slant the trial in Agusta's favour.

"If an agreement is struck, the issues above will become irrelevant. Furthermore, the trials will be conducted in such a way as to favour his sponsors. His request is 0.5 per cent, equal to approximately USD 5 million, payable upon release of the final technical report if contents are as promised," the letter says.

The Army refused to comment, saying it is not aware of the letter or its contents.

AgustaWestland was eventually disqualified from the bid in May 2010. The Army went ahead with trials involving Eurocopter and Kamov. The defence ministry expected to take a final call on the deal this month.

The seized letter details the "meeting" with the brigadier and says he "offered his services to help eliminate the competition on technical grounds". "He is very keen on this as it is his last major assignment before retiring," it says.

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