MoD asks Italy for info, promises strong action

A day after The Indian Express reported that Italian investigators had stumbled upon documents that claim an Indian Army brigadier demanded a $5 million-bribe to swing a deal for army helicopters, the Defence Ministry said Friday that it has written to Rome requesting information on the alleged involvement of the officer.

Referring to a series of reports in this newspaper about the suspected corruption in the VVIP chopper deal, the ministry issued a statement saying the Italian government has been asked for an early response to its request for information about the probe there. It also said that "strong action will be taken against the offenders detected through this probe". Sources said Defence Minster A K Antony is "very concerned" about the corruption allegations.

"In response to media reports alleging irregularities in the contract for 12 helicopters from AgustaWestland for VVIP use, the ministry of defence has once again taken up the matter with the Italian government through the ministry of external affairs and has asked for an early response on the issue," defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said.

Separately, AgustaWestland also denied any wrongdoing. "AgustaWestland has not committed any form of irregularity during the tender for the supply of AW101 helicopters to the Indian defence ministry," it said in a statement.

The ministry, which in the past said it would not react to media reports on the issue, has also asked Italy to clarify if the role of middlemen in the deal has come through. "The Italian government has been requested to provide details of the existence, if any, of any middlemen or any individual or Indian entity in the above mentioned contract," Kar said.

The Italian probe has referred to the role of two middlemen, Guido Haschke and Christian Michel, in the Rs 3,546 crore deal. While Haschke was arrested in Switzerland and has since been released, Michel is yet to be questioned.

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