UK offers to cooperate in graft probe

February 20, 2013 - 4:40:31 am

British Prime Minister David Cameron with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh after delivering statements to the media in New Delhi, yesterday.

NEW DELHI: British Prime Minister David Cameron promised full cooperation yesterday with an Indian investigation into alleged corruption in a helicopter deal, an issue that has clouded his trip to New Delhi.

Cameron arrived in India on Monday pushing for better access to the booming market of 1.2 billion people and greater trade.

While keen to persuade India of the merits of the part-British Eurofighter jets, he has been dogged by another aviation deal involving the Anglo-Italian helicopter maker AgustaWestland.

Italian authorities arrested the boss of AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica last week during an investigation into bribes allegedly paid to secure the $750m Indian government contract in 2010.

Press reports indicate one of the accused middlemen is based in London, while the helicopters are being made in southwest England.

“We will respond to any request for information. I am glad that the Italian authorities are looking into this issue in detail,” Cameron told a press conference with Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh.

Singh, eager to show his graft-plagued government taking action ahead of national elections next year, said he had conveyed “our very serious concerns regarding allegations that unethical means were used” to secure the deal. 

“I have sought the full assistance of the UK in this case,” he added. The scandal has been an unwanted distraction for Cameron who is keen to forge a new partnership with Britain’s former colony, believing their historical links should provide a foundation for a closer partnership.

Like other Western leaders who arrive eyeing the country’s enviable economic growth rates, he is eager for British companies to benefit from India’s vast investment in infrastructure, health, energy and defence. Executives in his delegation from the worlds of banking, insurance and retail have also been encouraged by the Indian government’s moves late last year to drop some barriers to foreign investors.

Cameron has targeted a doubling of annual bilateral trade with India, from £11.5bn ($17.8bn) in 2010 to 23 billion pounds by the time he faces re-election in 2015.

Harsh Pant, a expert on Indian foreign relations at King’s College university in London, said that Britain and India were bound by their history and large British-Indian population, but that New Delhi was destined to remain aloof.

“India has never been about close relationships with any country,” he said, referring to its embrace of the non-aligned movement. “They will never be the sort of partners that some countries expect them to be or want them to be.” In moves designed to appeal to his hosts, Cameron has announced a new same-day visa service for Indian business people and stressed that British universities remain welcoming places for Indian students.

He has played cricket to highlight the countries’ common love of the game and joked and spoke with 400 students and Bollywood mega-star Aamir Khan at a New Delhi girls’ college yesterday.

Singh thanked Cameron for his “strong personal commitment to India” — this is his second visit since becoming prime minister in 2010 — and said he had invited increased British investments in India. “We expressed satisfaction with progress in our economic engagement, while stressing the need to do more to take the relationship to a new level,” he said.

In 2010, Cameron had given heavy backing during talks with Indian leaders to the part-British Eurofighter consortium, which was competing for a $12bn contract to sell 126 fighter jets to the air force. AFP

Govt has nothing to hide: Antony


New Delhi: The government has nothing to hide in the VVIP chopper controversy and is prepared for a discussion in parliament, said Defence Minister A K Antony here yesterday. He also refuted reports about his resignation.
“Our hands are very clean and we have nothing to worry. The government has nothing to hide. We will explain everything to parliament,” Antony told reporters after Partnership Day function marking the signing of Inter-Government Agreement between India and Russia for the formation of BrahMos Joint Venture.He denied any rift in the government on the scrapping of the chopper deal.
“There are no differences. The government is acting together,” he said and added that the issue was being handled by the defence ministry for the present.
Antony said his ministry had sought assistance of the External Affairs Ministry concerning the controversies in the deal whenever required and there was no lack of coordination. He said decisions about defence procurement were not political. “It is according to defence procurement procedure.”IANS