India has asked the Italian government to share details of whether Indian middlemen, including a Brigadier in the Army, offered to swing the purchase of 197 light utility helicopters for the Indian Air Force from Italian manufacturer Finmeccanica. Defence secretary Shashikant Sharma has asked the Italian government if its probe has revealed that bribes were paid by Finmeccanica.
India is also buying 12 helicopters built by AgustaWestland -- owned by Finmeccanica -- for use by VVIPs including the Prime Minister and the President in a $720 million deal, which was signed in 2010.
Finmeccanica is being investigated by Rome after some its former employees alleged that the defence conglomerate had regularly paid bribes across the world to secure contracts and the MoD wants to find out if kickbacks were paid for the $720 million deal too.
Following the allegations of Finmeccanica's ex-employees and an inquiry in Rome, the MoD had asked the Indian embassy to find out if any bribes were indeed paid. Finmeccanica had vehemently denied this, saying in a statement, "AgustaWestland is not involved in any irregularity concerning the supply of its helicopters to India."
The Indian Embassy in Rome on its part wrote back to New Delhi saying that while Italy wasn't sharing any details, inquiries from its local sources hadn't revealed anything negative.
The 197 light utility helicopters deal that Finmeccanica had bid for were to replace India's aging Cheetah and Chetak fleet. Though the the bid was rejected, investigations by Italy have revealed that an Indian Army Brigadier, who led the evaluation trials, offered to doctor them favourably for a $5 million bribe.
Eventually, India ruled out Finmecanica for the bulk purchase. It is now choosing between the Russian Kamov and the Eurocopter, made by a consortium of European countries.
The procurement of the 197 helicopters will be reviewed on Monday at the meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the apex body headed by the defence ministry, which advises the government on capital military procurements.