British Prime Minister David Cameron is due to hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday in pursuit of deeper trade ties as a widening corruption scandal threatens to overshadow his visit.
Cameron arrived on Monday accompanied by the biggest-ever British overseas
business delegation in the midst of a political storm over India's purchase of helicopters from Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland.
The British premier, set for talks with his counterpart Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee, is seeking to boost ties with the fast-growing region.
"Britain wants to be your partner of choice," Cameron told a business audience in Mumbai on Monday.
He said the two countries have the foundations for a "special relationship" – a phrase British leaders traditionally uses to depict its US links.
But the helicopter scandal has taken the gloss off Cameron's second trip to India as he presses for a deeper trade relationship and greater access for British companies in India.
After an investigation in Italy suggested kickbacks were paid via middlemen to secure the $748-million (560 million euro) deal, India has taken steps to scrap the contract for the 12 helicopters and started its own police inquiry.
Cameron is expected to face questions from Indian leaders about what Britain knows about inside aspects of the 2010 deal – with the helicopters being manufactured in southwest England.
Cameron said on Monday that it was for the UK's Serious Fraud Office itself to decide whether to look into the bribery claims. "That is a matter for them. We have totally independent investigating and prosecuting authorities in the UK, and they are at liberty to act or not, and are not directed by ministers," the prime minister said.
"Britain has, in our anti-bribery laws, some of the toughest laws in the world, so people know if they do business with British companies, that they have those protections."
"What I am saying to people here is that AgustaWestland is an excellent company, with highly skilled workers who make brilliant helicopters," he added.
Kickbacks to the tune of Rs. 360 crore was allegedly paid to bag the Rs. 3,600 crore deal for supply of 12 VVIP choppers to India.
In Mumbai on Monday, Cameron announced that Britain will introduce same-day visa service for Indian businessmen wanting to invest there. He sought a "special relationship" between the two countries, saying it is about the future for which sky is the limit.
Out to woo Indian students, Cameron also said there would be no limit on the number of students from India studying in his country.
"I want Britain and India to have a special relationship....this is a relationship about the future, not the past," Cameron said in Mumbai.
(With AFP inputs)
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