Flying into trouble

AgustaWestland probe must be concluded quickly, and insulated from the political point-scoring

By: Express News Service | Updated: April 28, 2016 11:29 am


Giuseppe Orsi attends a convention in Rome December 18, 2012. (Source: Reuters/Files) Giuseppe Orsi attended a convention in Rome December 18, 2012. (Source: Reuters/Files)

The Rs 3,546 crore AgustaWestland contract, signed in February 2010 to purchase 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force to carry VIPs like the president and prime minister, was cancelled by the government in January 2014. This was within a year of the deal running into trouble in February 2013 with the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica. Since then, the names of several middlemen, fixers, politicians, military personnel and their relatives have been doing the rounds in Indian and Italian courts. While the Italian Court of Appeals has convicted Orsi and former AgustaWestland head Bruno Spagnolini, the Indian leg of the investigation is still on. It’s undeniable that the case involves corruption, but the current political noise over the deal, revived after the Italian court’s judgment came into Indian hands, should not be allowed to interfere with the ongoing investigation, which must be completed impartially and without political point-scoring.

Although the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) of 2001 had permitted defence agents, few had registered owing to the lack of clarity on rules. The ground had always remained fertile for middlemen and commissions. As a result, despite the UPA government’s rote recourse to blanket bans, blacklisting and pre-emptive freezes — which had impaired India’s military modernisation project by denying its armed forces access to indispensable technology and equipment — scams such as AgustaWestland could not be prevented. And yet, the AgustaWestland affair is one rare instance of India getting some things right. Wrongdoing was detected and the government had taken the right call in cancelling the deal to punish the firm, while stopping short of blacklisting it. Through the subsequent recovery of the bank guarantee between January and June 2014 — since AgustaWestland had violated the integrity pact — India had also recovered more than the 45 per cent of the total contract value paid to AgustaWestland.

Subsequent to the AgustaWestland scandal, although not consequent to it, Indian defence procurement has been undergoing several changes, with a much more transparent system in place under the new DPP that includes three key reforms: Legalising defence agents, reviewing blacklisting norms, and changing systemic attitudes. Whether the overhaul of the Indian defence sector sticks to the new roadmap or not, and whether or not it transforms itself fast enough, only time will tell. As far as the AgustaWestland case is concerned, the CBI must be urged to conclude its probe quickly and fairly, especially since the Italians have already wrapped up their investigation.

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  1. N
    Apr 28, 2016 at 5:35 am
    It would be ideal to conclude the CBI probe quickly and fairly, but in the considered opinion of Mr R K Raghavan in "The HIndu" two things would take a long timelt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;A. Bringing Michel to India for questioninglt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;B. Working out the financial trail that leads to the recipients of pay;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If that is the case, there is no point in looking for a quick resolution, especially after seeing the sloth displa since 2013. While the CBI investigates, it is essential that the two main political parties stop slinging accusations at each other and behaving like judge, jury and executioner. A debate in the LS and RS would seem to be counter productive , since no member has anything resembling strong evidence.
    1. V
      Apr 28, 2016 at 9:21 am
      With the judgment of the Italian Court of Appeals having been declared, it is now beyond doubt that money had pla its dirty hand in finalizing this contract of ours with the Italian firm for the purchase of some VVIP helicopters. The alleged involvement of one of our senior military officers acting as a helping instrument in this shady deal casts enough shame to the type of the public servants we are producing in our country. But added to this is the still more shameful slight on our national character which is brought out by the way in which our two main national parties are busy slinging dirty accusations at each other instead of cooperating with each other to help the investigation come to a valid conclusion. Full seven decades have almost ped since that Tryst with Destiny speech delivered at the midnight of August 15 1947 but as yet we have not learnt how to govern ourselves as a responsible independent nation. Will the media do something in this regard?