Finmeccanica ready to cooperate with India on helicopter deal

Italian defense company Finmeccanica , at the center of a probe into alleged bribery to win an Indian helicopter tender, said on Tuesday it was ready to cooperate with Indian authorities to clarify the matter.

India's defense ministry has threatened Finmeccanica unit AgustaWestland with cancellation of a 560 million euro ($750 million) deal for 12 helicopters unless it can give assurances that no bribes were paid in the deal.

The case, which escalated last week with the arrest of then Finmeccanica head Giuseppe Orsi, is putting pressure on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose government has been buffeted by a string of graft cases. It has also become a political issue in Italy, which goes to the polls on February 24-25.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Italian defence group said it had never broken Indian law in the 40 years it had been operating in this strategic market, adding it was confident AgustaWestland would be able to show it had acted lawfully.

"Finmeccanica is confident AgustaWestland will demonstrate it has fully complied with Indian law," the group, which has named Chief Financial Officer Alessandro Pansa as its new CEO, said.

The state-controlled group said it was "ready to cooperate with Indian authorities in order to clarify the matter."

It said cooperation would follow "international procedures applicable to an investigation of this kind."

India has sent a high-ranking delegation of officials to Italy to gather evidence on the bribery case. The officials were in Milan on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said.

The four-man delegation is led by Indian Ministry of Defense Joint Secretary Shri Arun Kumar Bal and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official Mahipal Yadav. It also includes a legal officer from the Ministry of External Affairs, an official at India's Rome embassy said.

India's CBI begun its own probe after Orsi's arrest.

Members of the delegation, who met at India's consulate in downtown Milan, declined to answer questions about their plans and meetings in Italy as they left the building early in the afternoon.

A judicial source told Reuters the Indian team had asked to meet Eugenio Fusco, the prosecutor in charge of the probe, but was refused access.

A spokesman for the Italian justice ministry said India had not yet sent a formal request for judicial cooperation, a step that is essential for this kind of international collaboration.

Meanwhile in India, Singh said his government had sought Britain's full assistance in investigating the allegations involving Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland.

Singh was speaking alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is on a three-day visit to India.

"I also conveyed to the Prime Minister our very serious concerns regarding allegations about unethical means used in securing the 2010 contract of the AgustaWestland helicopters," Singh said.

"I have sought full assistance from the UK in this case. Prime Minister David Cameron has assured me of the cooperation of his government in the investigation.

$1 = 0.7490 euros)

(Writing by Lisa Jucca, additional reporting by Emilio Parodi in Milan and Roberto Landucci in Rome; Editing by Anthony Barker)