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No Proof of Corruption, Says Italy Court, Acquits Two Main Accused in AgustaWestland Case

In this file photo, Giuseppe Orsi, former chief executive of the state-controlled defence group formerly known as Finmeccanica, poses in a helicopter during the opening ceremony of the new Terminal of Vertiporto dell'Urbe in Rome January 19, 2009. (Photo: Reuters/Remo Casilli)

In this file photo, Giuseppe Orsi, former chief executive of the state-controlled defence group formerly known as Finmeccanica, poses in a helicopter during the opening ceremony of the new Terminal of Vertiporto dell'Urbe in Rome January 19, 2009. (Photo: Reuters/Remo Casilli)

In December 2016, Italy's highest court had ordered a re-trial of the case, after the former executives of the Rome-based group were found guilty on corruption charges related to a 560 million euros ($672 million) contract to supply a dozen helicopters to New Delhi.

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Milan: An Italian appeals court on Monday acquitted two former Leonardo executives who were accused of paying bribes to Indian Air Force officials in exchange for a Rs 3,600 crore VVIP chopper deal to sell 12 AugustaWestland helicopters to India.

Giuseppe Orsi, the former president of defence and aerospace giant Finmeccanica that was later renamed Leonardo, and Bruno Spagnolini, former CEO of the company's helicopters subsidiary AgustaWestland, were cleared of charges as "there isn't sufficient proof", according to the sentence read out in court.

Orsi was at the helm of AugustaWestland when the deal was struck and he is suspected of involvement in the payment of bribes. He had been sentenced to four-a-half-years years in jail for false accounting and corruption. Spagnolini, who had also been handed a four-year jail term on the same charges, was also cleared.

In December 2016, Italy's highest court had ordered a re-trial of the case.

The CBI, however, said the acquittals will have no bearing on their case as it is based on an independent investigation with strong evidence. The officials said the same set of evidence had resulted in their conviction earlier.

The UPA government had in February 2010 signed a contract with UK-based AgustaWestland to purchase 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs 3,600 crore.

The case against Orsi and Spagnolini resulted from an investigation launched in 2012 into the sale of the helicopters to India. These choppers were supposed to be used for flying the President of India, the Prime Minister, and other such VVIPs.

India scrapped the contract with AugustaWestland in January, 2014 over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of kickbacks paid by the firm for securing the deal.

India's defence ministry had ordered a CBI probe into the allegations of kickbacks to the tune of Rs 362 crore after the arrest of Orsi and Spagnolini by Italian investigators in connection with the case.

Several IAF officers, including its former chiefs, came under the scanner. Former Air Force chief SP Tyagi, his cousin Sanjiv alias Julie Tyagi and lawyer Gautam Khaitan were also arrested by the CBI for alleged corruption in the case.

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