AgustaWestland: David Cameron fails to deliver on promise to India over corruption case
By David Pallister | 29 May 2013
“The UK side informed MEA that it has not launched any investigation”
– AK Anthony, India’s defence minister
UK authorities are failing to help India investigate alleged bribery over a defence deal with an Anglo-Italian company – despite promises by prime minister David Cameron.
Exaro can reveal that the UK government has stalled over formal requests for assistance made by India as it investigates the allegations.
AgustaWestland, the Farnborough-based subsidiary of Finmeccanica, the Italian defence contractor, is at the centre of a bribery investigation after securing a €556 million deal in 2010 to sell 12 AW101 helicopters to the Indian Air Force.
Cameron made his fulsome promises to help during a visit to New Delhi in February after his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, raised “serious concerns” about the alleged bribery.
At a joint press conference with Cameron, Singh said in his opening remarks: “I also conveyed to the prime minister our very serious concerns regarding allegations about unethical means used in securing the 2010 contract for AgustaWestland helicopters.”
“I have sought full assistance from the UK in this case. Prime Minister David Cameron has assured me of the co-operation of his government in the investigation.”
The day before the press conference, Italian police arrested Giuseppe Orsi, Finmeccanica’s former chief executive and chairman, and Bruno Spagnolini, who was AgustaWestland’s chief executive. Authorities in Italy and India are investigating claims that the deal was won by bribing the former head of the Indian Air Force, SP Tyagi, through a network of middlemen, including a British businessman, Christian Michel.
One claim is that cash from a €51 million slush fund was distributed to Orsi’s political supporters in the Northern League, which was then part of Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition government.
The 12 helicopters, including eight for transporting VIPs, were scheduled for delivery between January and July of this year.
AgustaWestland, which has an assembly plant in Somerset, Finmeccanica and Tyagi deny any wrongdoing.
In reply to Singh, Cameron said at the joint press conference in the Indian capital: “In terms of AgustaWestland, as the prime minister has said, we will respond to any request for information. I am glad that the Italian authorities are looking into this issue in detail as Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, is an Italian company.”
He later told the BBC: “I will work closely with the Indians to make sure that they get to the bottom of this.”
However, Exaro has established that India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had already made a formal request for assistance some four months earlier, and that the UK had rebuffed it.
India’s defence minister, AK Anthony, told the country’s parliament that his government made the request because AgustaWestland is a UK-based company. In addition, he said, an alleged middleman is British.
In a parliamentary written answer, he said: “MEA has also been requested to take up the matter with the government of the UK, as well as requesting its co-operation in verifying the allegations, and helping us by providing relevant information relating to the alleged involvement of a middleman and/or of any Indian individual/entity.”
Michel was formally named as an alleged middleman by Italian prosecutors in the arrest warrant for Orsi.
Based in Dubai, Michel has a London address in Chelsea. He has declined to comment.
But, according to India’s Ministry of Defence, the UK rebuffed the request for assistance in November last year.
After Cameron’s visit, the minister told India’s parliament: “The UK side informed MEA that it has not launched any investigation and is awaiting the results of the Italian investigation in order to ascertain whether any further action needs to be taken.”
A spokesman for the UK’s Foreign Office told Exaro: “Following on from the prime minister’s commitment to co-operate with Indian investigations, the government has responded positively to Indian requests for information.
“We confirmed our willingness to pursue any requests expeditiously, in accordance with the procedures for mutual legal assistance under the 1992 agreement between the UK and India.”
That confirmation was formally sent to Delhi on April 4, the spokesman added. “We have not received any further requests to provide information from the Indian authorities.”
The disclosures over London’s stalling on the case come as the UK prepares to drop an investigation into allegations of bribery surrounding a contract to overhaul Saudi Arabia’s military communications.