India pressures Italy for info on AgustaWestland investigation


Stressing that India has taken "serious note" of the alleged irregularities in the VVIP helicopters deal being reported by The Indian Express, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Thursday said it had called in the Italian ambassador and impressed upon him that the information New Delhi has sought from Rome about the probe there is important.

Starting last week, a series of reports in The Indian Express have revealed that Italian investigators are probing allegations that AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica, allegedly paid 51 million euros as kickbacks in the Rs 3,546 crore deal for 12 AW 101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force.

The deal was signed in 2010 after a bidding process in which Russia's Kazan and American Sikorsky also participated. AgustaWestland has said it has not committed any irregularity in the deal. But the Italian police probe names at least three Indians among 15 people in connection with the alleged kickbacks and money laundering. Taped conversations of the alleged middleman in the deal also indicate that 10-15 million euros of the commission may have been routed to India.

While looking for evidence in the VVIP chopper deal, Italian investigators allegedly stumbled upon papers on an Indian Army deal to buy 197 helicopters, and they included a letter which claims an Indian Army Brigadier demanded

$ 5 million to swing the deal.

"Given the serious nature of allegations appearing in the media, the government has taken a serious note of the reports," MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said when asked for an update on the government's position on the case.

"To emphasise the importance, secretary (west) in the MEA, Madhusudan Ganapathi, had called in the Italian ambassador yesterday, and also provided him an aide-memoire impressing upon them the importance of responding to our request for information," he said. An aide-mémoire is a non-paper sent informally to countries for discussions and acts as a reminder.

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