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Chopper deal under scanner

New Delhi, Nov. 26: The Indian government has asked authorities in Italy and the UK for information on a 556 million euro helicopter deal that the defence ministry is procuring to fly the President, Prime Minister and other dignitaries.

The information was sought because of reports from a court in Naples that witnesses had alleged that executives in Finmeccanica had paid a bribe to swing the contract.

“However, in the absence of any specific information in this regard, government has not ordered any formal inquiry into the case so far,” defence minister A.K. Antony told Parliament in response to questions on Monday.

The 12 Agusta Westland helicopters are to be delivered between January and July 2013 from the UK. Finmeccanica is the parent company of Agusta Westland.

A former head of external relations for Finmeccanica, Lorenzo Borgogni told a court in Naples during investigations that he had heard of payouts to swing the Indian deal. The Indian defence ministry sought the assistance of the Italian government for the details but it was informed that the judicial process in Italy is independent of the government, Antony said.

It has also sought information from the UK because Agusta Westland is based there. Media reports have referred to the involvement of an agent who is said to be a British consultant.

Antony said the external affairs ministry has been requested to take up the issue with the UK government.

The defence minister said the VVIP contract, like all contracts above Rs 100 crore, has an “integrity pact” within it. It commits the buyer to an agreement that it will not offer bribes or engage agents. Antony said the defence ministry could cancel the contract if there was a breach of the pact.