Consultant in Finmeccanica bribery case enters plea bargain - sources

BUSTO ARSIZIO, Italy, April 2 Wed Apr 2, 2014 11:56am EDT

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BUSTO ARSIZIO, Italy, April 2 (Reuters) - A consultant accused of bribing Indian officials to help a unit of Italy's Finmeccanica win a helicopter contract has struck a plea bargain with Italian prosecutors, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Under the arrangement, which must be ratified by a judge, Guido Ralph Haschke would be sentenced for international corruption and would serve a year and 10 months under home detention or performing community service, the sources said.

Haschke and the prosecutor in charge of the case in the northern Italian town of Busto Arsizio, Eugenio Fusco, declined to comment. Under Italian law, entering a plea bargain does not amount to an admission of guilt. Haschke has never publicly admitted the bribery accusations.

It would be the first sentence handed down in the scandal that has harmed state-owned defence group Finmeccanica and its helicopter unit AgustaWestland. Prosecutors said AgustaWestland paid bribes to win the 560 million-euro ($773 million) Indian contract in 2010.

Former Finmeccanica Chairman and CEO Giuseppe Orsi and the former head of AgustaWestland, Bruno Spagnolini, are on trial in the case after being charged with international corruption and falsifying invoices.

Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland, Orsi and Spagnolini deny any wrongdoing. They have said the consultancy deals related to engineering services which have all been documented and that no payment ended up in the pockets of Indian officials.

For Haschke, the plea bargain would mean a lighter sentence than if he were convicted on the same charges in a trial, the sources said. The prosecutor would avoid a lengthy trial process that, in Italy, involves two appeals.

The sources said judge Alessandro Chionna in the Tribunal of Busto Arsizio would hold a hearing on April 11 to decide on the agreement between Fusco and Haschke, a Swiss-resident Italian and U.S. national.

Fusco says money used for bribes to high-ranking Indian officials was paid by inflating the price of consultancy deals between AgustaWestland and firms co-owned by Haschke.

Haschke, a 62-year-old owner of a management and business strategy consulting business, and more than a dozen other people are under investigation but have not been formally charged.

The case has embarrassed the New Delhi government before parliamentary elections due by May 2014.

India cancelled the helicopter deal in January, citing a breach of integrity relating to alleged corruption after having frozen payments for the 12 AW101 helicopters last year.

New Delhi, which has agreed to AgustaWestland's calls for arbitration, is also seeking to recover more than 278 million euros in bank guarantees backing the scrapped deal. ($1 = 0.7249 euros) (Writing by Danilo Masoni; editing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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