External affairs minister Salman Khurshid told reporters that India was in touch with authorities in Italy over the case and suggested that Italy was a better place to probe since the firm that produces helicopters operates out of that country.
“The government would do whatever was lawfully required in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal and provide the CBI any kind of assistance it needed,” Khurshid said.
The contract for helicopters was signed in February 2010. The IAF sought the choppers as a replacement for its Mi-17 cargo helicopters that have been modified for VVIP deployment. The Comptroller and Auditor General had made an adverse comment, saying it was a waste of resources.
Meanwhile, the ministry's Defence Acquisition Council has deferred the $1.5-billion purchase of 197 light utility helicopters for the air force and the army. Sources said the decision was prompted by deviations in the deal, besides bribery allegations in the AgustaWestland transaction. Sources claimed a final decision on the deal – delayed since 2008 due to red tape – would be taken later, but industry watchers told FE that the Request for Proposal (RFP) for these helicopters may even be scrapped.
Eurocopter's Fennec and Kamov Ka-226T are vying to replace the 1970s helicopter fleet of Cheetahs and Chetaks. AgustaWestland too was originally a contender, but was eliminated on technical grounds.
Sources confirmed an earlier FE report that neither Eurocopter Fennec nor rival Russian Kamov Ka-226T have fully met specifications. However, a technical panel has studied the deviations and made certain recommendations to the MoD. The Defence Acquisition Council did not accept this, sources said.
The Indian Army has been trying to replace its Cheetah/Chetak fleet for nearly a decade. By 2007, Fennec had emerged as the winner in a tender floated in 2003. In the fresh tender issued in July 2008, two machines were shortlisted for flight evaluation, the single engine Eurocopter AS550 C3 Fennec and the twin engine Russian Kamov-226 Sergei.