By Satarupa Bhattacharjya and Ross Colvin
NEW DELHI, March 13 Indian police investigating
the AgustaWestland bribery case raided homes and business
premises in the New Delhi area and two other cities on
Wednesday after formally launching a probe into the helicopter
firm and its parent company, Finmeccanica.
The government will take the "strongest possible action" if
the investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)
finds wrongdoing, junior defence minister Jitender Singh told
parliament as the raids were under way.
The CBI said it had registered a criminal case under India's
anti-corruption laws and named Italian defence company
Finmeccanica and its Anglo-Italian unit,
AgustaWestland, as targets of its probe.
Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland have denied paying bribes in
a $750 million contract awarded in 2010 to supply a dozen AW 101
helicopters for Indian political leaders. Italian police have
arrested the head of Finmeccanica, Giuseppe Orsi, in connection
with the case.
The CBI said in a statement that four firms and 12
individuals, including former Indian air force chief S.P. Tyagi,
were being investigated. A man who answered Tyagi's telephone
said the retired military officer was not taking calls. Tyagi
has previously denied any wrongdoing.
The CBI said searches were carried out at 14 locations,
including the offices of Aeromatrix, one of the companies named
in a separate bribery inquiry by Italian prosecutors. Contacted
by telephone, Aeromatrix CEO Praveen Bakshi said he was too busy
NO ARRESTS SO FAR
CBI spokeswoman Dharini Mishra said Finmeccanica's Orsi,
Bruno Spagnolini, former CEO of AgustaWestland, who has been
placed under house arrest by Italian police, alleged middlemen
U.S.-born Guido Ralph Haschke and his partner, Carlo Gerosa, and
three of Tyagi's cousins were also under investigation.
No arrests had been made so far, she said. The CBI has
already questioned many of the Indians involved in the case. The
formal registration of the inquiry now allows the agency to make
arrests and to ask Italy and Britain for more information.
Italian prosecutors accuse Orsi of paying bribes to
intermediaries to secure the helicopter deal when he was head of
AgustaWestland. They allege the middlemen paid Tyagi to change
technical specifications in the tender to favour the company.
Orsi has denied any wrongdoing.
India has frozen payments for the helicopters pending an
inquiry by the CBI and has said it is seeking to cancel the
deal. It has already taken delivery of three of the aircraft.
Indian Defence Minister, A.K. Antony, who has previously
threatened to cancel the deal and blacklist the companies and
has faced a barrage of opposition questions in parliament over
the case, struck a more cautious note on Wednesday.
"The CBI is investigating the matter. I do not want to say
anything at this point of time," he told Reuters in parliament.
Antony asked the CBI to investigate the allegations for the
first time last month despite the fact that they first surfaced
a year ago. He has complained that Italy rebuffed Indian
requests for information on a judicial investigation into the
The case has put pressure on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh whose government has been buffeted by a string of graft
cases. The ruling Congress party is expected to face a tough
fight for a third term in office in elections due by 2014.
In recent years, India has emerged as the world's largest
weapons importer, but procurements are periodically held up by
allegations of corruption. Finmeccanica could be blacklisted in
India for at least five years if investigators prove bribery.