ROME – Giuseppe Orsi, the former CEO of Italian group Finmeccanica, was acquitted in October of offering bribes to Indian officials to buy the AW101 helicopter. India had closed a €560 million (US $702 million) deal in 2010 to buy 12 of the aircraft.
Allegations of corruption were first made by a former employee at Finmeccanica, and Orsi was jailed for 82 days in 2013 as Italian magistrates investigated. India meanwhile canceled the contract, launched its own probe and obtained €228 million held as bank guarantees on the deal. It also prevented Finmeccanica from pitching for new contracts in India.
Orsi stood trial alongside Bruno Spagnolini, the then-CEO of Finmeccanica's helicopter unit, AgustaWestland. Although they were both acquitted of charges of international corruption, Orsi and Spagnolini received a suspended two-year sentence for fraudulent bookkeeping.
Orsi and Spagnolini will appeal the sentence, but it is likely that prosecutors will also appeal against the corruption acquittal, as they are permitted to do under the Italian legal system. When the first round of appeals is completed, the case may be appealed a second time by either side at Italy's supreme court, meaning the case will be in and out of court in Italy for months or years to come.
Q. You were arrested in February 2013 on suspicion of paying bribes to India and released from jail after 82 days as the investigation continued. How did you react to that?
A. You can imagine how it is to go from traveling around the world to being restricted to 10 square meters. You no longer have control over space, time or your contacts.
The Italian judicial system allows pretrial custody to stop evidence tampering, and it is also used as a way to put pressure on suspects to talk. I knew I was innocent and the sentence has now cleared up any doubt for others. But at the time many reports confused pretrial custody with a definitive sentence of guilt. Italy has no bail system. [In South Africa] Oscar Pistorius was released on bail despite being accused of murder, while I was put in jail.
Q. How was the investigation into the allegations against you handled?
A. I won't comment on the investigation, but it seems the evidence gathered did not merit the decapitation of senior management at such a large firm — particularly since the accusation did not come from India, but from Italy.
One improvement to the system here would be to make mandatory the questioning of the suspect before jailing him. That way he could resign first, saving his company and his country from damage. Additionally, wiretaps were taken out of context and were used by the press for months before we could rectify their meaning during the trial. Our case was symptomatic of the need to reform the Italian legal system.
Q. Your accuser was Lorenzo Borgogni, a senior manager at Finmeccanica whom you had let go a few months after you become CEO.
A. Borgogni, by his admission, had earned millions of euros in consultancy fees from companies who worked as contractors to Finmeccanica, and I let him go on ethical grounds. He then went to a magistrate and told stories concerning myself. Apart from the story about the India contract, he added in a story about me paying an Italian political party. To make it more interesting, he played the political scandal card. Without that, the whole case might not have gone so far.
The prosecutor eventually dropped the investigation into the payment to the Italian political party. I am suing Borgogni for calumny.
Q. Two consultants, Christian Michel and Guido Haschke, were accused of organizing the bribes to be paid to Indian officials to win the helicopter contest. If that is not true, what was their role?
A. The outcome of the trial confirmed that they did provide useful, legitimate services to the company. Michel signed an agreement for post-contract services and to buy back used helicopters. Haschke was involved in the digitalization of design work using Indian firms for that work. Haschke plea bargained to end his involvement in the case, but under Italian law plea bargaining need not involve an admittance of guilt. That is something else which was misunderstood abroad.
Q. While being acquitted on charges of international corruption, you were given a suspended sentence of two years for fraudulent accounting. So you have not been totally vindicated.
A. We aim to overturn that sentence at the appeal, which should take place at the end of 2015. There seems to be an incongruence in the sentence, given that we have been cleared of corruption but found guilty of false accounting because of our role as CEOs. We wait for the court's reasoning, which is normally published 90 days after the verdict. Either way, this case was born as a case of international corruption and a court has now ruled that it did not exist.
Q. Did you receive support from industry contacts during the trial, or did people turn their back on you?
A. We received solidarity from both the industry and military circles. Myself and Spagnolini have always been straightforward and continue to be, and we hope our friends in the industry and the militaries will continue to have faith in us and in our former companies.
Q. Should India now revive the AW101 contract and drop the inquiry it launched into the alleged corruption?
A. Each country should proceed according to its legal system as it goes about discovering the truth. But since the Indian inquiry is a consequence of the Italian probe, and given we have been found innocent, pending appeal, in Italy, I hope India is able to drop the case, relaunch the contract and proceed as before, since it has always been confirmed in India that the AW101 is the best helicopter for that role.
Q. What do you intend to do now? Return to the industry?
A. After 40 years in the industry, then months following every hearing in the court case, a bit of a rest is welcome. I am now working with a charity foundation in Milan which provides 400 dinners a night in Milan to the "new poor" — those who lost the jobs during this crisis — for the price of €1. My work involves also helping them in finding new jobs to restore their social level.
Q. How might Finmeccanica have evolved differently if you had not stepped down and the contract had proceeded in India?
A. I don't want to be a Monday-morning quarterback and think about what might have been. I hope Finmeccanica can continue on its path now of being a less politicized company — a process which is underway. ■