The Agusta chopper scam came to light in 2012 (File photo)
NEW DELHI: India has lifted the ban on business dealings with defence major Leonardo SpA, the erstwhile Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica enmeshed in the infamous Rs 3,546 crore VVIP helicopter scam along with its UK-based subsidiary AgustaWestland International since 2013-2014.
The defence ministry’s decision to resume business with Leonardo SpA is “subject to certain conditions imposed on the company”, top government sources told TOI on Saturday. Under the conditions, Leonardo SpA cannot make any commercial claims or file any civil suit against the Indian government for any previous deal. Moreover, new business dealings will take place “without any prejudice” to the ongoing investigations into the alleged VVIP helicopter scam by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, which will continue, the sources added.
The MoD decision to lift the ban was taken after a high-level committee examined the matter on a request made by Leonardo SpA and submitted its recommendations after consultations with the law ministry. Italy has repeatedly been asking India for the ban to be lifted in bilateral talks. PM Modi also held the first in-person meeting with his Italian counterpart Mario Draghi on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Rome on October 29.
Sources said the ban on Leonardo SpA and its subsidiaries had “limited India’s options” in the international arms market because the conglomerate produces a wide array of weapon systems ranging from torpedoes and 127mm naval guns to radars and short-range surface-to-air missiles.
It was in early-2012 that allegations of Rs 360 crore being paid as bribes to Indian politicians, bureaucrats and IAF officers to swing the Rs 3,546 crore deal to supply 12 AW-101 VVIP helicopters had first surfaced in a probe by prosecutors in Italy. The deal had been inked in 2010. The CBI had registered a case against former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi, Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi, AgustaWestland chief Bruno Spagnolini and alleged middleman Christian Michel James, among others.