Italian defence and aerospace major Finmeccanica’s former chief Giuseppe Orsi has been sentenced by the Milan appeals court to four-and-a-half years in jail for false accounting and corruption in the sale of 12 VVIP choppers to India for over Rs 3,600 crore.
In the ruling, which overturned a previous court order of 2014 that had given Orsi reprieve in connection with the corruption angle, former CEO of Finmeccanica’s helicopter subsidiary AgustaWestland, Bruno Spagnolini, was also handed a four-year prison term by the court.
According to officials in the Ministry of Defence, Orsi’s sentencing will strengthen India’s case against the company in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where the two are locked in an arbitration battle.
In May 2014, after an Italian court allowed India to recover Rs 1,818 crore worth of bank guarantees from banks in Italy, AgustaWestland approached the ICJ and named former Supreme Court justice B N Srikrishna as an arbitrator. India appointed Justice B P Jeevan Reddy as the second arbitrator. In September 2014, when the two sides did not agree on a third arbitrator, the ICJ appointed Professor William Park to resolve the dispute.
“The Milan court’s decision strengthens India’s case in the arbitration court,” a Defence Ministry official told The Indian Express.
The Indian Express was the first to report the scandal and had detailed the alleged nexus of middlemen involved in the deal in a series of reports.
Italian prosecutors had requested jail terms of six years and five years for Orsi and Spagnolini, respectively, news agency ANSA reported.
Though Finmeccanica has refused to say anything on the ruling, saying it pertained to former executives, top company officials told PTI that the firm “has changed completely”.
“The company has undergone deep changes… it is a different company now,” an official said. “It has changed its top management and its organisation.”
The lawyers of both the accused have said that they will go in for an appeal.
The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate are still probing the case in which former Indian Air Force chief S P Tyagi and his cousins are alleged to be the beneficiaries.
The ED has booked Tyagi, his family members, European nationals Carlo Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guido Haschke, four firms — Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland, Chandigarh-based IDS Infotech and Aeromatrix — two companies based in Mauritius and Tunisia, a few other firms and unknown persons as per the CBI’s criminal complaint.
The ED had attached five flats in and around New Delhi in the name of Tyagi’s cousins in connection with its money laundering probe.
The agency, in its order issued against the Tyagi brothers — Sanjeev, Sandeep and Rajeev — had said late last year that its investigations found that the “proceeds of crime” were allegedly used by them in the acquisition of these properties.
Both Orsi and Spagnolini were accused of international corruption and false invoicing in relation to bribes exchanged for the contract with India.
Both were cleared on charges of committing international corruption at the first-instance trial in 2014 but convicted of false invoicing and sentenced to two years in prison.
In Italy, criminal sentences are not usually considered definitive until the appeals process has been exhausted.
Both appealed against the conviction, while the prosecution appealed against the acquittal on the corruption charge.
On January 1, 2014, India scrapped the contract with Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW101 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs 423 crore by it for securing the deal.
In view of the corruption charges, India has also barred Finmeccanica and its group companies from participating in any new programme of the Defence Ministry.
[With PTI inputs]