Minister of External affairs Salman Khurshid has expressed his reservations about scrapping the Rs 3,546 crore VVIP chopper deal with Italy that has made headlines because of alleged discrepancies.
A Times of India report quoted Khurshid as saying, “We don’t want to overreact because we don’t want to let this issue affect our defence preparedness.”
Holding that an investigation into the helicopter deal was on at “many levels”, Khurshid had said on Monday that Letters Rogatory is the “best and strongest method” available to it for seeking details from Italian courts on the case.
A Letters Rogatory or letter of request is a formal request from a court to a foreign court for some type of judicial assistance. Khurshid had said the Indian Government has not been able to get “concrete materials” from Italian authorities.
As Venky Vembu had written in an earlier article, forced on the defensive by Italian prosecutors’ revelations of bribery in the sale of 12 AgustaWestland helicopters to India, the Indian government looked as though it would try to save face by cancelling the deal by invoking what’s called the “integrity pact”. When it sold the helicopters, AgustaWestland expressly committed itself, as all defence suppliers are required to do with India, to not deploying middlemen to advance the deal. When Italian investigators unearthed prima facie evidence of kickbacks paid to middlemen – in Europe and in India – and are proceeding with the prosecution in Italian courts, the contract seemed doomed.
However Khurshid clearly doesn’t think that this is the best option.
“There is a very important segment of opinion, including former air chiefs, who have nothing to do with the AgustaWestland deal, who have certified that the quality of the product is beyond compare. Nobody has raised a question on the quality of the aircraft. Even on the changing of tech specifications, there has been no question — it was done with the best intentions of opening the field to more players,” Khurshid was quoted as saying by the Times of India report.
A CBI team, comprising a senior investigating officer and a law officer, would meet also Italian prosecutors to ascertain the details of the case.