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Light chopper deal stuck as Army wants Brigadier’s role probed

Officer's name came up in VVIP chopper probe,allegedly demanded $5 mn bribe.

Written by Manu Pubby | New Delhi | April 3, 2013 8:39:16 am

The fate of the much-needed replacements for the ageing Cheetah helicopter fleet that services troops posted in high altitude areas is hanging in the balance with the Army informing the Defence Ministry that any decision on the contract will be taken only after a probe into the role of a Brigadier who led the comparative flight trials.

The fresh hurdle for the deal to procure 197 light helicopters for the armed forces comes after the name of the Brigadier came up in the Italian investigations into the VVIP chopper deal last year. As first reported by The Indian Express in October last year,Italian investigators found a document that claimed that an Indian Army Brigadier allegedly demanded a bribe of $5 million in 2010 to swing the contract in favour of AgustaWestland.

While the Italian chopper firm was subsequently disqualified from the contract,its shadow now threatens the future of the contract as the Army has conveyed that a decision to open the commercial bids — the final step in the deal — will be taken only after the Brigadier’s role is probed. The officer had led the trials and is currently posted in Chennai.

Even as time is running out to finalise the contract — both Russia’s Kamov and Eurocopter have qualified in the technical competition — the Army is not taking any chances and has made the point that the next step will be taken only after a detailed inquiry. It is still not clear if an external agency will be brought in to investigate the case. The CBI is currently probing the VVIP chopper deal in which the Brigadier’s name has surfaced.

This comes as bad news for the Army as an investigation will delay the contract at a time when there is a desperate need for the new helicopters. The Army’s Cheetah fleet are ageing and have had a spate of accidents in recent years.

The fresh hurdle comes as ‘memorandum’ seized from the home of alleged middleman in the VVIP chopper deal Guido Haschke by Italian prosecutors says the Brigadier,who was in charge of the flight trials of a contract for 197 light choppers,asked for the money in January 2010,days before the trials began.

The “highly confidential” letter is part of an investigation report by Italian prosecutors and was allegedly seized along with other documents on April 23 last year. It claims the Brigadier “made contact” after an orientation meeting in Bangalore on January 16,2010 and volunteered information on the progress of the contract.

Night vision devices cleared for tanks

Giving in to a long-standing demand of the Army,the Defence Ministry has cleared a Rs 2,820 crore proposal to equip tanks and armoured vehicles with night vision devices. The defence acquisition council has approved the purchase of over 5,000 thermal imaging sights that will be bought from Defence PSU Bharat Electronics Limited. More than 2,000 devices will be fitted on the T 72 tank fleet while 1,200 pieces have been bought for the T 90 tank. An additional 1,780 sights would be purchased for BMP infantry combat vehicles fleet.

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