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Chopper trial opens in Italy,defence for A K Antony as witness

The scandal has raised the prospect that Finmeccanica could be blacklisted in India.

Written by Reuters | Busto Arsizio |
June 20, 2013 12:40:00 am

A lawyer for Bruno Spagnolini,the former chief executive of AgustaWestland,asked an Italian court Wednesday that India’s Defence Minister A K Antony be called in as witness,as trial began in the alleged corruption in the sale of 12 helicopters to the Indian government.

Spagnolini and Giuseppe Orsi,former head of the Italian defence group Finmeccanica of which AgustaWestland is a part,have been accused of paying bribes to intermediaries to secure the sale of the helicopters in a 560 million euro ($ 749 million) deal in 2010.

The arrest warrant for Orsi and Spagnolini said that the Indian tender was changed to deliberately favour the Italian firm. The scandal has raised the prospect that Finmeccanica could be blacklisted in India,the world’s largest arms importer and an important growth market for the state-controlled company.

Spagnolini’s lawyer,Massimo Bassi,also asked the court that former Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal (retd) S P Tyagi be called. The court,which decided to let India’s Ministry of Defence and Italy’s tax agency seek damages,said the next hearing will be held on July 11. A legal source told Reuters he expected a long trial.

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Finmeccanica and Orsi,who left the company a few days after his arrest on February 12,deny any wrongdoing. Spagnolini,who also stepped down,also denies any responsibility in the matter.

During a break in the hearing on Wednesday Orsi’s lawyer Ennio Amodio said: “We will demonstrate that the tender in India was regularly carried out and nothing illegal was done in that country.” Neither Orsi nor Spagnolini were in court. India has frozen payments for the helicopters pending an inquiry by the CBI into AgustaWestland,and has said it is seeking to cancel the deal.

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