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India seeks Cameron's aid in copter graft probe

Publication Date : 20-02-2013

 

British Prime Minister David Cameron had hoped to push defence ties with India during his visit.

But not like this.

Cameron intended to make a fresh case for the Eurofighter jet to India, which is spending billions of dollars modernising its armed forces.

Instead, he was asked to help with investigations into a bribery case involving an Anglo-Italian helicopter company.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose government has been engulfed by the defence scam, said in a statement after talks with Cameron yesterday that he had asked his British counterpart for help investigating alleged kickbacks for the purchase of helicopters by the Indian Air Force from AgustaWestland, which is owned by Italian aerospace giant Finmeccanica.

"I also conveyed to Prime Minister Cameron our very serious concerns regarding allegations about unethical means used in securing the 2010 contract for AgustaWestland helicopters," he said.

India's defence establishment has been hit hard by the bribery scandal in the 2010 contract struck by the Indian Air Force to buy 12 helicopters for US$750 million.

Italian investigations found middlemen involved in the deal, and Indian investigators are now in Italy.

Cameron said: "We will respond to any request for information. I am glad that the Italian authorities are looking into this issue in detail as Finmeccanica is an Italian company.

"Let me make it absolutely clear that we have introduced anti-bribery laws, probably the strongest in the world... We will root out any forms of bribery and corruption wherever it happens."

AgustaWestland has more than 3,000 employees in Britain.

Cameron is on a three-day visit with a delegation of more than 100 business leaders to push economic ties with India and carve out opportunities for British companies. He noted that the two countries were well on their way to doubling bilateral trade from 11.5 billion pounds (US$17.8 billion) in 2010 to 23 billion pounds in 2015.

European countries are trying to tap into India's boom, hoping to win contracts in a variety of areas, including defence, as their own economies slow.

Last week, French President Francois Hollande was in India on a similar trade mission, hoping to finalise the agreement to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets, which beat out the Eurofighter. The deal is still being negotiated.

Cameron, who has visited India twice in three years, urged India to cut its notorious red tape.

Meanwhile, Dr Singh asked his counterpart to ease Britain's tough visa regime. "Education and science are special areas of India-UK cooperation," he said.

"I have impressed upon the Prime Minister the need for a visa regime that facilitates greater movement of people between our two countries."

A joint statement released after talks showed the two nations were stepping up cooperation in everything from cybersecurity to civilian nuclear cooperation.

Britain has agreed to give India civil and military technology, including civilian nuclear know-how. The two countries also agreed to start a new programme to collaborate in cybersecurity, a growing area of concern.

 

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