My ex Guardian and Exaro colleague David Pallister has been assiduously following the latest Agusta Westland scandal which led the Indian government to cancel an order for 12 helicopters to ferry Indian VIPs after allegations of corruption.
His latest article on the Exaro website reveals that proceedings investigating alleged corruption involving a middleman and another British businessman and Indian officials are continuing in both India and Italy.
My grouse is not with the pace of investigations in India or Italy into what the Indian press have dubbed the ” choppergate scandal” but the British government’s attitude to what is going on.
David Cameron in 2013 visited India with 100 business people to pledge that he wanted India to be a “partner of choice” with Britain. As you can hear here Mr Cameron praised Westland to the skies and said any corruption problems about the order were of course a matter for the Indians and the Italians. Nudge, nudge, it’s those bloody foreigners you know.
.To quote: “AgustaWestland is an excellent company, with highly skilled workers who make brilliant helicopters. Britain has … some of the toughest laws in the world, so people know if they do business with British companies, they have protections.”
How odd it must have seemed to the Indians that one of the people under investigation in the corruption scandal was British.
Now the Indians have requested more information from the British for a criminal investigation. We know this because the Indian Parliament has recorded this in a written answer to MPs.
“MEA (ministry of external affairs ) has also been requested to take up the matter with the government of the UK, as well as requesting its co-operation in verifying the allegations, and helping us by providing relevant information relating to the alleged involvement of a middleman and/or of any Indian individual/entity.”
Roll on this year and nothing much has happened. So I chose the appearance of Guardian despising Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, at a press gallery lunch in Parliament to ask him what was happening.
His reply was that he was ” unaware of any request” and repeated the Cameron line.
“I am not aware of any request from the Indian Ministry of Defence for help about this, but I will check to see whether this is correct.”
He added: “As I understand, the court case ( In Italy – at the Agusta end) is about recovering money [by AgustaWestland] after the contract was cancelled by the Indian government.”
Bloody foreigners again. His ” check ” meant according to his top special adviser that he was still sticking to the story. But he helpfully added that Vince Cable’s Business, Innovation and Skills department may know more. Guess what they parroted the same line that it was a problem between the company and the Indians. Yes those bloody foreigners are at it again. It was becoming obvious we were not helping the Indians get to the bottom of it at all.
This rather arrogant and even Imperial attitude towards corruption as a problem for others might be rather comic if it did not have serious repercussions for British workers and jobs. The cancelled helicopters were being assembled in Yeovil at the time.
The latest news as reported by the Times of India is that the Indian government has won its case to get most of its money back and the Indians are considering whether to put the British company on a blacklist for future orders.
So what Cameron hailed as a wonderful business trip to boost British jobs and exports could end up with one of the Britain’s more successful exporters being blacklisted by one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Well done, Dave!