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Cameron assures India of cooperation in choppergate

Raising serious concerns over allegations of ‘unethical means’ used in the Rs 3600 crore VVIP chopper deal involving Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday secured assurance of full assistance from his British counterpart David Cameron in the matter.

The AgustaWestland choppers, which India has ordered for use by its top leaders, are partially built in the UK. Westland used to be a UK firm and was taken over by Italian defence giant Finmeccanica.

After having wide-ranging talks which included key issues of nuclear energy cooperation, security, terrorism and trade with Cameron, Singh said he conveyed India’s ‘serious concerns’ pertaining to the chopper scam and sought his ‘full assistance’ on the issue.

Giving details of his discussions, he said: ‘I also conveyed to Prime Minister Cameron our very serious concerns regarding allegations about unethical means used in securing the 2010 contract for AgustaWestland helicopters.

‘I told him that we have sought an explanation from the company by February 22 to examine if the contractual provisions on unethical practices and the Integrity Pact have been violated. I have sought full assistance from the UK in this case. Prime Minister Cameron has assured me of the cooperation of his Government in the investigations.’

On his part, Cameron said, ‘In terms of AgustaWestland... we will respond to any requests for information. I am glad the Italian authorities are looking into this issue in detail as Finmeccanica is an Italian company, a parent company of AgustaWestland.’

The British Prime Minister is here at a time when India is taking steps to scrap the chopper contract in the wake of allegations by Italian investigators that aerospace group Finmeccanica had broken the law by paying bribes to foreign officials to secure the deal and arrest of its chief.

India has already issued a note verbale and met with UK Foreign Office officials to get information and assistance in probing the allegations of corruption in the deal.

Noting that the UK has provided an interim response, the MEA has said they were awaiting a ‘full-fledged response’.

Cameron also ‘committed the UK to make available to India cutting edge British technology, civil and military, that the Britain currently shares with its top international partners, in accordance with international obligations’.

Both agreed to work together to achieve India’s ambitions to join the major export control regimes (Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Group; Australia Group; Wassenaar Arrangement).

The India-EU Free Trade Agreement also figured in talks, with both sides underlining their strong commitment to its successful outcome.
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