NEW DELHI — AgustaWestland’s VVIP helicopter scandal has hit India’s long-pending tender to buy 197 Light Utility Helicopters (LUH).
The Defence Acquisition Council at its April 2 meeting failed to decide on the fate of the LUH buy and instead was apprised of the probe initiated by the Indian Army into the role of a serving brigadier who allegedly sought kickbacks to swing the LUH helicopter deal in 2009.
Documents seized by Italian authorities while probing Finmeccanica point to the brigadier’s offer to swing the deal, said a source in the Indian Ministry of Defence. No evidence has so far been found against the brigadier, who was overseeing the flight trials of the LUH in 2010.
The $1 billion LUH tender, in which Kamov of Russia and Eurocopter are competing, could face cancellation for the second time in six years, added the source, because of the latest controversy.
The Indian Defence Ministry has asked the Italian authorities through the Indian Foreign Office to make available to them details of the documents in which the name of the serving officer emerged through interrogations being carried out in Italy.
Media reports here said that documents filed in an Italian court said an Army aviation brigadier had sought money to alter the LUH tender during the initial stages in 2010 to favor Italy’s AgustaWestland, which was subsequently disqualified in the technical evaluation round.
The LUH field trials have been completed but the announcement of the preferred vendor has been postponed indefinitely in the wake of the latest controversy.
The tender in 2009 was sent to Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and Kamov. AgustaWestland has since been eliminated.
The 2009 tender was a repeat of an earlier tender in which the program was canceled after Bell Helicopters complained about a lack of transparency in the procurement program. Eurocopter had emerged as the winner.
The Indian Air Force and Army need the LUH to replace aging Cheetah and Chetak helicopters.