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British PM Cameron assures India of cooperation in probe of alleged payoff in chopper deal


16:00, February 20, 2013

NEW DELHI, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- Britain has assured Indian officials on Tuesday that it will extend all cooperation to any Indian probe into the multi-million-dollar helicopter scam which involves Italian defense giant Finmeccanica's UK-based subsidiary AgustaWestland.

"We will respond to any request on information on AgustaWestland. I am glad that Italy is looking into the details," British Prime Minister David Cameron said during his visit to New Delhi.

Cameron told the media here that Britain has already introduced anti-bribery legislation that is probably the strongest anywhere in the world.

Cameron gave the assurance after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed to him "New Delhi's very serious concerns regarding allegations that unethical means were used" to secure the deal in 2010.

"I have sought the full assistance of the UK in this case," Singh told the media, after meeting with Cameron who arrived here Tuesday from Mumbai, the second leg of his three-day official visit to India.

During their talks, Singh and Cameron also agreed to enforce more cooperation in combating cyber attacks, including police training exchanges and research into online security.

Experts said the unraveling of the alleged payoff involving 750 million U.S. dollars in a deal for the purchase of Italian-made helicopters has clouded the British Prime Minister's visit to India as both leaders did their best to keep up a brave front for their mutual benefit.

"The Indian Prime Minister wants to show that his scam-tainted government is very ready to act against corruption keeping in view the general elections slated for 2014, where the ruling Congress- led United Progressive Alliance could suffer a setback," Delhi- based political analyst Professor Ajay Singh said.

Professor Singh said that the Parliament's budget session is to start this week and Prime Minister Singh "is apparently using his British counterpart's visit to pacify the opposition as the scam may trigger disruptions by India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party."

On the other hand, the British Prime Minister is keen to foster a "special relationship" with India as he is trying to take advantage of this country's economic growth which will be of great advantage to British companies seeking to invest in such fields of infrastructure, health and defense.

India, which has a history of corruption in defense contracts, recently suspended the deal to acquire 12 helicopters, meant for the use of the Indian President, Prime Minister and other key dignitaries, following the arrest of Finmeccanica's chief executive in Milan over corruption last week.

India has already received three of the 12 state-of-the-art choppers.

Last week, the Indian Defense Ministry had ordered a high-level probe into the allegations of corruption in the deal and even sought an explanation from the Italian firm by Feb. 22 on the alleged scam.

Defense Minister A.K. Anotony had said that the deal would be scrapped if it is proven that kickbacks were paid by the Italian defense giant in order to bag the deal.

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