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Helicopter scandal hangs over Cameron’s India visit

Thursday, February 21, 2013



INDIA: British Prime Minister David Cameron arrives in India’s financial hub Mumbai on Monday on a three-day trade-focused visit clouded by a corruption scandal over British-made helicopters sold to New Delhi.

Cameron’s trip comes amid a raging scandal over the procurement of 12 helicopters for use by VIPs in 2010, which were bought for $748 million (560 million euros) from Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland.

After an investigation in Italy suggested kickbacks were paid via middlemen to secure the deal, India has taken steps to cancel the contract and has started its own police investigation.

The British Prime Minister is likely to face further questions about the contract -- the helicopters are being manufactured in southwest Britain -- with the Indian government keen to be seen to be acting tough on a new graft scandal.

“We did ask (Britain) in November and they said that since the Italians are investigating let us await the outcome (of that probe),” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told AFP.

Indian investigators will travel to Italy as ealy as this week as part of an inquiry into the matter, a spokesperson for the Delhi-based Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said Sunday.

Cameron, who is accompanied by a large business delegation, will be far keener to address new areas for trade and investment between Britain and its former colony, whose economy has slowed sharply but still offers vast potential.

The British leader has targeted a doubling of trade with India from 11.5 billion Pounds ($17.8 billion, 13.4 billion euros) in 2010 to 23 billion Pounds by the time he faces re-election in 2015.

After business meetings in Mumbai on Monday, he will fly to New Delhi for face-to-face talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday.

On his first trip to the country in 2010 after his election, Cameron pressed the case for the part-British Eurofighter jet, which was competing to win a $12-billion contract for 126 aircraft.

Last January, India selected a rival French plane, the Rafale made by Dassault Aviation, but with the deal still not finalised Cameron is likely to remind the Indian government of the Eurofighter’s merits.

Among his business delegation, executives from the Tesco supermarket chain are eyeing the retail sector following recent reforms to open up the market, as are bosses from the banking and insurance world.

AFP
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