Italian political party under lens for getting kickbacks from AgustaWestland

  • Abhishek Sharan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 19, 2016 11:30 IST
AgustaWestland allegedly paid 12 million euro in kickbacks to Italian political party Lega Nord to seek its support in bagging the Indian chopper deal. (Photo courtesy

After Indian politicians, it may be Italian lawmakers’ turn to face the heat over the alleged scam in the Rs 3,727-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal of 2010.

AgustaWestland (AW) allegedly paid 12 million euro (Rs 90.8 crore) in kickbacks to Italian political party Lega Nord, via a former top official of Italian parent firm Finmeccanica, to seek its support in bagging the deal, found the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that probes financial crimes.

The payments to Lega Nord were part of the 70 million euro that AW paid to bag an Indian contract for the supply of 12 of its AW-101 choppers. Confirming the payments, an ED supplementary charge-sheet submitted to a Delhi special court on Wednesday named a then top Finmeccanica officer for links with Lega Nord. The ED charge-sheet said Giuseppe Orsi, the then managing director, made the payment to the political party in lieu of its support.

AW, Finmeccanica and Orsi were among 19 — 13 people and six firms — named accused by the Central Bureau Investigation (CBI) and the ED in their first information reports registered to probe the irregularities in the 2010 deal.

The ED charge-sheet said AW paid over Rs 375 crore in bribes to ease a key technical requirement — service ceiling, which refers to a chopper’s maximum flying elevation. The service ceiling was reduced to 4,500 from 6,000 metres in March 2005, which enabled the otherwise ineligible AW chopper to re-enter the fray.

The investigators suspect AW may have paid Lega Nord for gaining access to Italian political authorities in the years preceding the conclusion of the Indian deal. “Details awaited from Italy will throw more light on how exactly Orsi, AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica benefitted from Lega Nord’s political support in clinching the deal,” said the source.

The rest, from the pool of 70 million euro fund, was paid to AW’s three non-Indian middlemen — 30 million euro to British businessman Christian Michel, and 28 million euro to Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, according to the charge-sheet.

The ED on Wednesday charged Michel for routing to India Rs 6.3 crore from the kickbacks he received in the chopper deal. It claimed Michel and two Indian directors, RK Nanda and JB Subramanyam, of his shell firm, Media Exim Pvt Ltd, helped him invest the bribe money in the country.

According to the charge-sheet, Michel met an AW Indian employee in Dubai in 2014 at a time the 2010 deal was being investigated by the CBI and the ED and in which the British middleman was an accused. When asked by the AW employee, who is based in Delhi, if he was concerned about the scam probe, Michel allegedly said there was no need to worry. Michel had earlier asked the employee if Finmeccanica’s India office had forwarded a 9,500-page document on the 2010 deal to the CBI and was told it was done.

Slapping charges under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the ED found Michel camouflaged the Rs 6.33 crore as consultancy contracts payments through his Indian shell firm. The money to the Indian firm came from Dubai-based Global Services FZE, another firm owned by Michel.

ED’s main charge-sheet against a few accused, including Gautam Khaitan, was submitted in 2014. The deal was scrapped by the previous United Progressive Alliance government the same year.

On April 7, Italy’s Milan Court of Appeals awarded jail terms to Orsi and a former AW top official, Bruno Spagnolini, for the Indian 2010 deal.

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