An Italian court on Thursday acquitted senior executives of military consortium Finmeccanica of corruption charges in the VVIP helicopter deal with India, but [India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, CBI] insists that the verdict would not adversely affect its ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of kickbacks in the Rs 3,600 crore 2010 deal.
The Milan court though sentenced former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi and ex-AgustaWestland head Bruno Spagnolini to two years in prison on lesser charges of falsifying invoices in the deal.
Public prosecutor Eugenio Fusco had accused the two senior executives of paying several millions of euros as kickback for the deal to Indian officials through intermediaries. The prosecutor had alleged that the accused had falsified invoices to route the bribe money. Both have been convicted for falsifying invoices, but not held guilty of corruption, according to reports.
The prosecutor had asked for a six-year jail term for Orsi and five-year sentence for Spagnolini. Under the order, the two would not go to jail until the appeal process is over.
In his first reaction to the Italian order, CBI director Ranjit Sinha told TOI, “The Italian court’s decision will not affect our probe.” The agency is waiting for a copy of the Italian court order, he said. A few days ago, the CBI director had, however, said he was not even sure whether the agency will file a chargesheet or a final report in the case. The final report could mean a closure report in the court, saying there is not enough evidence to proceed with the criminal case.
Other CBI officials also said the judgment should not have any adverse effect on their ongoing investigations into the VVIP helicopter scandal. In its FIR filed on March 13, 2013, the agency named 11 people including former air force chief Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, his three cousins, a brother of former union minister Santosh Bagrodia and others, besides four companies including Finmeccanica, UK-based AgustaWestland and Chandigarh-based IDS Infotech and Aeromatrix.
One CBI investigator said they are hopeful that “our investigations into bribery paid to Indian officials would not be affected by the decision”. But to prove the bribery charges, the CBI will need to find the money trail through foreign countries, mostly tax havens. The slow LR (letter rogatory) route is yet to find any significant response.
With the corruption case collapsing in Italy, it would mean that the Indian investigators would lose their most important source- the Italian prosecutors- in the case.
The CBI is yet to make any arrests, and is nowhere near completing its investigations. The Enforcement Directorate arrested Delhi-based lawyer Gautam Khaitan on September 23, for allegedly laundering kickback in the scandal.
The CBI’s FIR focuses on corruption charges apart from criminal conspiracy and cheating. Agency sources said they have already established that AgustaWestland was favoured by Indian officials by relaxing the specifications for the helicopter but money trail is still under investigation. The agency’s LRs are pending in UK, Italy, Tunisia and Mauritius.