India to lift ban on Italian arms company linked to AgustaWestland scam
After eight years, India is expected to lift the ban on Italian defence conglomerate Leonardo Group, which owns a controversial AgustaWestland manufacturing unit. AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper purchases worth Rs.3600 crore were caught for bribery of around Rs.500 crore in India and the helicopter company Finmeccanica was also caught in several cases in Italy and in 2016 rebranded as Leonardo. Consultations are now on between the Defence Ministry and Law Ministry to look into all the legal angles before giving the go-ahead to the Italian company to do business in India, sources said here on Saturday.
According to Indian officials, the removal of the ban will allow India to access world-class technology for some projects like the Black Shark torpedo for the Scorpene submarines now under construction at the Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL). The Indian Navy needs these torpedoes for more lethality. The torpedoes are manufactured by one of the subsidiaries of the Leonardo group.
However, the lifting of the ban may be partial and the ongoing investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) into the helicopter deal scam will continue, they clarified. Also, Leonardo cannot claim any compensation for the earlier deals, sources said adding the lifting of the ban is conditional.
The officials said discussions were on at various levels in the government and with Italy regarding the removal of the ban. The VVIP helicopter scandal erupted in late 2010 and early 2013 in Italy. Later, the Italian government arrested some AugustaWestland officials in connection with alleged kickbacks. Then Defence Minister A K Antony cancelled the deal in 2013.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her Political Secretary later Ahmed Patel’s role in blessing the Rs.3600 crore worth VVIP helicopter deal was revealed in the Italian Judgment. India got deporting of the main middleman Christian Michel from Dubai in 2018 and Rajiv Saxena who handled the kickback distribution in India. Congress leader Kamalnath’s son is still on the radar of agencies and his nephew was arrested by the agencies. The then Air Force Chief S P Tyagi was also arrested and facing trial now. However, BJP led Government did not pursue the case up to the top echelons of Congress and avoided summoning Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel, though their roles were detailed in the Italian Court’s Judgment.
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