Delivery of AgustaWestland helicopters put on hold

A day after Finmeccanica chief Guiseppe Orsi was arrested following Italian investigators finding his company’s subsidiary paid bribes in the government here to win a helicopter contract, India today put on hold the remaining payment of Rs 2,400 crore, along with the delivery of nine helicopters from the company, until the closure of an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

India has already received three of the 12 choppers for which the deal was struck in 2010 for Rs 3,600 crore. Three helicopters were to arrive here next month, while the remaining six were to be delivered later this year.

India has already paid around 30 per cent of the committed amount, but the payment of about Rs 2,400 crore for the remaining choppers was expected to be put on hold until the outcome of the CBI probe, defence ministry sources said.

The first batch of three AW-101 choppers arrived last month at the Palam air base and the next batch of three was scheduled to arrive by March.

India was to pay the rest of the amount at the time of deliveries of the respective batches.

Defence Minister A K Antony today said India could “get its money back even at this stage”.

Asked whether the payment made to the Italian firm so far could be claimed back by the Indian government, Antony said: “If the government paid any amount, in line with the provisions of the integrity pact, we could get back the entire money we paid to the vendor.”

Meanwhile, Italian investigation reports suggested that Guido Haschke and Christian Michael were the main middlemen in the deal and around ^15 million had been paid to Indian individuals as bribes of the total kickbacks of ^51 million.

In April last year, the Italian and Swiss officials had raided Haschke’s offices and arrested him, but he was released on bail within 24 hours.

The investigation reports also talk about taped conversation between the middlemen suggesting the bribe money was allegedly routed through Tunisia.

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