New Delhi

Indian police search Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland offices

New Delhi offices searched in helicopter graft probe

Indian police search Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland offices

New Delhi, March 13 - Indian criminal investigators searched the New Delhi offices of Finmeccanica and its subsidiary AgustaWestland on Wednesday in a probe over alleged bribes paid in the sale of 12 AW-101 helicopters to the Indian air force. Sources close to the Italian State-controlled defense contractor group told ANSA that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) "arrived around 6:00 am (local time) and spent a number of hours in the offices". The CBI anti-corruption police have also questioned former Indian air force chief of staff Sashindra Pal Tyagi and the ex-officer's cousins Julie and Docsa Tyagi about their alleged contacts with European middlemen Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschkhe. Italian investigators have accused Gerosa and Haschkhe of paying bribes to swing the deal for the 12 choppers in favor of AgustaWestland. The ex-officer and his relatives have denied any wrongdoing. On March 6, Indian Defense Minister A. K. Antony told the Senate the contract with Agusta Westland is on hold pending results of the current investigation. "No decision has been made on whether to blacklist the company", the minister told MPs. The CBI also recently questioned managers at the Indian branches of Aeromatrix and IDS Infotech, which prosecutors believe acted as intermediaries by issuing false engineering contracts and routing bribes through the Mauritius Islands and Tunisia, sources close to the investigation said. India's Senate agreed at the end of February to establish a parliamentary commission to investigate a scandal-plagued helicopter contract with AgustaWestland, while Antony threatened to severely punish those responsible for alleged corruption in the $750 million US contract. Opposition politicians in India's Senate accused the government of using the commission to delay dealing with the matter. In response, Antony said he would "black-list" any companies violating anti-corruption laws. "No one will be spared," he said. In February, an Italian probe into the allegations led to the arrest and resignation of Finmeccanica ex-CEO Giuseppe Orsi. India has already taken the initial steps to cancel the helicopter contract. It froze payments on the units, two of which have been delivered and one on the way, pending the results of the corruption probe. India's defence ministry also said it had asked Finmeccanica's new CEO, Alessandro Pansa, for any information he might be able to provide on suspected bribes. Finmeccanica is Italy's biggest defence contractor and a major world player, employing some 70,000 people.

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