India will send a new letter to helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland (AW), warning that early investigations by the CBI suggest that bribes were paid by the Anglo-Italian venture to land a deal for 12 helicopters in 2010.
Last week, India wrote to AW, initiating the process to cancel the nearly Rs. 4,000-crore deal. AW wrote back to the Defence Ministry elucidating its objections. Now, India will shoot off another note that will officially communicate that AW is part of a preliminary enquiry by the CBI, indicating that investigators have reason to believe that AW is guilty.
AW's letter of defence, signed by Raymond Edwards, Managing Director, states that the allegations of bribery are based on unsubstantiated news and other media reports, and that Italian investigations are at a "pre-trial phase" which means that charges have not been "tested in court."
India commissioned a CBI inquiry to determine if bribes were paid after the top executive of AW's parent company, Finmeccanica, was arrested in Italy. In a preliminary enquiry report, Italian prosecutors said a matrix of middlemen and companies had been used to route pay-offs to India, some of which were eventually transferred to former Air Force Chief SP Tyagi, who has denied any malfeasance, but features in the CBI's preliminary enquiry. (Read: CBI seems to reject denials by ex-Air Force Chief SP Tyagi)
The alleged scam has left the government exposed to more allegations of deeply-entrenched graft in the crucial months ahead of next year's general election, when the ruling Congress will ask voters for a third consecutive term in office.
Defence Minister AK Antony has reassured that India can claim a refund with interest and penalties by invoking 'the integrity clause' of the contract, which warns that the deal can be called off based on evidence that middlemen were used or that AgustaWestland exerted undue influence on officials here.