Rome

Finmeccanica's Pansa tipped for helm amid India probe

Copter purchase frozen after suspected bribes, shares plunge

Finmeccanica's Pansa tipped for helm amid India probe

Rome, February 13 - Finmeccanica's board is tipped to name its general manager, Alessandro Pansa, to take over at the defence giant after CEO Giuseppe Orsi was arrested Tuesday in a probe into suspected kickbacks in the 2010 sale of 12 helicopters by its aerospace unit AgustWestland to India. "The hypothesis to be examined by the board and the majority shareholder, the Italian Treasury, is to delegate executive powers to Pansa," sources said ahead of the board meeting Wednesday evening. Senior director Admiral Guido Venturoni is likely to get the post of deputy chairman, they added. Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli voiced confidence that the board would "make the right decision on new governance" for the group, one of Italy's biggest companies. Outgoing Premier Mario Monti cited the case in saying political interference in the Italian economy was "depressing". The former European Union trust-buster voiced the hope he might be able to change things if he had a continuing part in government following February 24-25 elections. Trading in Finmeccanica stock was suspended for an excessive fall on the Milan bourse as India was reported to have decided to halt the purchase of the helicopters, two of which have already been delivered and one of which is on the way. Shares fell over 5%, prompting bourse authority Consob to take the company off the board. They ended the day with a 4% loss. Earlier in the day, the Indian government was reported to have cancelled the 'copter contract, although a defence ministry spokesman said he had "no knowledge" of the move. But Indian Defence Minister A. K. Antony said the contract would be scrapped if the allegations of corruption being investigated by Italian prosecutors are proven. Antony added that Finmeccanica, which is controlled by the Italian State via a 30.1% stake, risks being put on New Delhi's company blacklist. "Finmeccanica could end up on the blacklist and the contract could be cancelled," he said after announcing he had ordered Indian investigators to look at the case. "We will act as soon as we have the results of our investigation". Meanwhile the leader of the Northern League, whose regionalist party was reported to have played a role in Orsi's appointment under a previous government led by Silvio Berlusconi, said the League was taking legal action after media reports linked it to the alleged corruption. ''Today I'll launch new legal action against that band of professional defamers,'' Roberto Maroni said, citing daily newspapers La Repubblica and Il Fatto Quotidiano. Orsi, who was appointed in May 2011, is considered close to the League, Berlusconi's main ally. ''Orsi is not a League man,'' Maroni said. ''He was appointed (by Berlusconi's last government) because he is good''. Among the claims made by the two dailies was that Orsi, allegedly prompted by then interior minister Maroni and then League leader Umberto Bossi, moved Finmeccanica facilities from southern to northern Italy.

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