| NEW DELHI, June 9
NEW DELHI, June 9 An Indian businessman was
charged on Saturday with attempting to bribe government
officials in connection with allegations that Swiss-based
Rheinmetall Air Defence AG paid him $530,000 to use his
influence to stop the company from being blacklisted.
Abhishek Verma and his wife were arrested on Friday after
the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) launched raids on 10
properties in and around New Delhi, including the home of a
former Rheinmetall representative in India. The CBI said in a
statement that it was investigating both Verma and the company.
Verma and his wife, Anca Neacsu, were charged in a New Delhi
court under the Prevention of Corruption Act and face up to five
years in prison if convicted. The magistrate ordered the couple
to remain in custody for seven days for further questioning.
Earlier this year Rheinmetall Air Defence, part of
Rheinmetall AG, a German automotive parts and defence
group, was placed on a blacklist of arms firms banned from doing
business in India following corruption allegations that it
India's Defence Ministry has put in place strict guidelines
for arms deals in an effort to crack down on bribery and
corruption at a time when Asia's third-largest economy is on a
weapons-buying spree to modernise its military. India is the
world's largest arms buyer.
Documents provided to the CBI by C. Edmonds Allen, an
American and a former business associate of Verma, show a
$530,000 credit transfer from Rheinmetall to a New York bank
account belonging to a U.S.-based company, Ganton Limited, which
the CBI alleges was owned by Verma.
The documents, which have been made public, include a
purchase order for "consultancy services" from Rheinmetall for
the same amount.
A representative of Rheinmetall in New Delhi told Reuters
she would seek an official company response to the CBI
investigation but that it would be difficult to get because it
was the weekend. There was no immediate response from
Rheinmetall officials in Switzerland or Germany.
The company said in March it was willing to cooperate fully
with the Indian authorities and would "do everything in its
power" to refute the corruption allegations. It complained that
India had yet to give it details about the alleged wrongdoing
that led to it being blacklisted.
The CBI said in a statement that Verma had contacted
Rheinmetall after the agency accused it of "adopting corrupt and
illegal means" to obtain a contract to supply the Indian
military with a 35 mm revolver gun air defence system. He had
assured them that he could influence government officials to
stall the blacklisting process, it said.
(Reporting By Ross Colvin, Satarupa Battacharjya and Arup
Roychoudhury; Editing by John Chalmers and Daniel Magnowski)