New evidence in India Agusta Westland VVIP helicopter scandal

An IAF VVIP helicoper undergoing testing. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
An IAF VVIP helicoper undergoing testing. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The Indian Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) has announced that it has received new evidence that could open up a long-running corruption case in the country.

This case revolves around the purchase by the Indian government of a number of AugustaWestland VVIP model helicopters.

In 2010 the Indian Air Force (IAF) announced that it had awarded AugustaWestland a contract for 12 of the company’s AW101 helicopters, which would be used by the president and other high-ranking officials.

However, this soon developed into a wide-reaching scandal in 2013 following the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland’s parent company, by Italian authorities on corruption charges.

Allegations were made that AgustaWestland paid off certain officials in India in order to win the ₹36 billion ($540m) contract.

In the aftermath of these allegations that implicated several figures within the Indian government, the CBI was ordered to conduct a large-scale probe into the issue by the Defence Minister.

As a result of this scandal, India cancelled the contract with AugustaWestland in 2014 and managed to recover the money they had already transferred.

Italian police provide CD evidence

Italian authorities, who had long been stonewalling the CBI on the case, finally relented two months ago and provided them with a CD filled with information.

The CD itself reportedly contained data on several companies, Giuseppe Orsi, and former AgustaWestland head Spagnolini Bruno, as well as bank transactions and other documents.

“It’s an important development as investigation was stuck due to non-cooperation from Italy for two-and-a-half years. The CD has given a fresh lease of life to the corruption probe,” said a CBI officer to Times of India.

Currently, the CBI is working through the documents and translating their contents which are in Italian.

Nonetheless, it appears that at least one new lead has been found into this case, with the CBI announcing that it had issued a non-bailable warrant against British national Christian Michel James last week.

James is wanted for questioning regarding the case and stands accused by a CBI special court of being involved with “huge payment of commission/kickback to cause favour to AgustaWestland”.

India is among the world’s largest importers of arms, and has a long history of large corruption scandals relating to these imports.