India and UK to cooperate on probing helicopter deal

India and UK to cooperate on probing helicopter deal

NEW DELHI - Reuters
India and UK to cooperate on probing helicopter deal

Britain’s PM David Cameron (L) speaks with the media as his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh looks on after their meeting in New Delhi. REUTERS photo

India and Britain agreed yesterday to work together to investigate any possible wrongdoing by a British company involved in a major deal to sell helicopters to India that has been clouded by charges of kickbacks and bribes.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on a three-day-visit that Britain would respond to any request for information on the deal by the Italian firm Finmeccanica and its British subsidiary, AgustaWestland. Under the deal, the companies were to sell 12 helicopters to India.

“In Britain we have introduced anti-bribery legislation that is probably the strongest anywhere in the world. And we will root out any problems of bribery or corruption wherever they appear, and whenever they appear,” Cameron told reporters.

India said Feb. 15 that it wanted to cancel a $750 million deal for a dozen helicopters made by AgustaWestland, the Anglo-Italian subsidiary of Italy’s Finmeccanica, over bribery claims.

The Finmeccanica case has sent shockwaves through the defence industry in India, the world’s largest weapons importer. It follows a series of corruption scandals that have dogged the government, which faces a general election due by 2014.

The Defence Ministry is considering cancelling the helicopter deal, which would put in question some $12 billion in sales the Italian company is chasing.

The helicopter deal threatened to overshadow Cameron’s visit, which he had hoped to use to boost trade and investment in the areas of energy, infrastructure, insurance, banking and retail.

Cameron said he was accompanied by Britain’s largest trade delegation ever, and that his country was on track to double trade between the two countries by 2015.

‘Too early for deal with France’

It was “too early” to consider the possibility of foul play in a planned $10 billion deal with France’s Dassault Aviation for Rafale war planes, Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony said yesterday.

“I can assure you one thing, as far as our government is concerned, regarding integrity, transparency, we will not compromise,” he said. “We will go to any extent to take action,” he said, if there was any evidence of corruption.

French President Francois Hollande said on a visit to India last week that his government was committed to deals being done according to “commercial rules” and France remained vigilant in the fight against corruption.

“We are working with Indian authorities, we have nothing to do with Finmeccanica and even less with the problems that they’re having now,” Eric Trappier, chief executive of Dassault Aviation, told reporters during Hollande’s visit.