With the defence ministry all set to blacklist Agusta-Westland-Finmeccanica for the VVIP helicopter bribery scandal, it has asked French aircraft manufacturer Dassault to clarify whether the Anglo-Italian chopper company was supplying parts for its Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) slated to be acquired by India at the cost of $20 billion.
South Block sources said the ministry wanted to seek prior clarification from Dassault during the negotiation stage as it did not want to face legal or operational hurdles for spare parts after the 126-aircraft deal had been signed.
“Dassault has been asked whether Agusta-Westland-Finmeccanica was original equipment manufacturer for the Rafale MMRCA as there were reports on the same. We have pointed out to Dassault that India was involved in litigation with the Anglo-Italian company over charges of bribery in the 12 VVIP helicopter purchase scandal,” said a senior defence ministry official.
When contacted, an Indian representative of Dassault said on condition of anonymity that Rafale was 100% French and the helicopter company was not part of original equipment supplier for the MMRCA.
While defence minister AK Antony is awaiting a CBI report on the VVIP helicopter scandal before formally blacklisting Agusta-Finmeccanica, there is pressure from within the services to delay the process, as the Anglo-Italian company supplies spare parts for US Apache and Chinook helicopters, which India is seeking to acquire from Washington.
The pressure from the services is quite evident, as the Italian helicopter company was inadvertently invited to Indian Defexpo in Delhi this month. But the fees, running into several crores of rupees, was refunded and invitation withdrawn after the ministry intervened at the highest levels.
“We want Dassault to clarify in writing that the helicopter company has nothing to do with MMRCA as there could be spare parts problems in future as under the rules defence ministry cannot deal with a company mired in bribery allegations in a contract,” said a senior official. The MMRCA deal is still a work in progress and will be signed by the next government.