AgustaWestland’s former chiefs call on ex-defence secretary to help rebut bribery claims
By David Pallister | 20 January 2014
Hoon is on a list of witnesses who are due to be called in the high-profile case to help deny bribery charges against two senior former colleagues at a defence group where the former Labour minister took an executive job nearly three years ago.
He is expected to be asked to testify on how India procures defence projects.
The former defence secretary left Parliament in disgrace over a cash-for-lobbying scandal four years ago after undercover journalists from The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches secretly filmed him and other MPs.
Two senior ex-executives are on trial over claims that AgustaWestland, an Anglo-Italian company, corruptly secured a contract to supply 12 AW101 helicopters to the Indian Air Force for €556 million.
The Indian government cancelled the contract earlier this month. It alleged that AgustaWestland had broken its “integrity pact”.
In India, police are investigating the former head of the air force, SP Tyagi, who allegedly received bribes from a €51 million slush fund.
AgustaWestland, which has an assembly plant in Somerset, and its parent company, Finmeccanica, deny any wrongdoing.
Giuseppe Orsi, former chief executive of AgustaWestland, who went on to become chief executive and chairman of Finmeccanica, and Bruno Spagnolini, who succeeded Orsi as AgustaWestland’s chief executive, are on trial in the industrial city of Busto Arsizio, near Milan.
The trial judge has approved the list of potential witnesses, including Hoon, as submitted by Orsi’s lawyers.
Hoon joined Tony Blair, then prime minister, on trips to India more than 10 years ago to persuade it to buy 66 Hawk trainer jets from BAE Systems. The deal was agreed in 2003, but later allegations of huge corruption over this and other contracts led to the resignation of India’s defence minister.
BAE has consistently denied bribery allegations.
Exaro revealed last May how the UK’s Conservative-led coalition government was failing to help India investigate the allegations surrounding the AW101 deal – despite promises by the prime minister, David Cameron.
A few months before the general election in 2010, Hoon announced that he would stand down as an MP. But he left Parliament in disgrace after an undercover journalist recorded him as he offered to lead delegations to ministers.
Hoon also said that he was looking forward to translating his knowledge and contacts about the international scene into “something that, bluntly, makes money.”
He denied at the time that he had offered to lobby government, or that he had broken any rules.
But the parliamentary commissioner for standards ruled that Hoon had breached parliamentary rules on lobbying.
Hoon was defence secretary between 1999 and 2005, and remained in the cabinet until 2009. Immediately after the election, he co-founded a consultancy company, and one of its clients was AgustaWestland.
A year later, AgustaWestland hired him as managing director for international business. His role is to help the company sell helicopters around the world – outside the UK and Italy.
The government’s advisory committee on business appointments approved the move.
A few days before Orsi’s arrest last February, Hoon was at Aero India 2013, an exhibition organised by India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), its air force and other bodies to bring together aerospace suppliers and buyers.
Asked about the allegations then surrounding the AW101 contract, Hoon said: “There were allegations. They were not proved. There was absolutely no substance to these allegations. They were thoroughly investigated, as I understand it. And no one can find any truth in them.”
The warrant accused Orsi of presiding over a “philosophy of corporate corruption”.
Exaro sent a registered letter to Hoon several months ago to ask for his comments on that remark. He has yet to reply.
He also did not return telephone calls made to him at the company this week.
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