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Indian Court Rejects Investigation Agency Plea to Cancel Bail for Defendant in Chopper Purchase Scam

New Delhi (Sputnik): India’s deal to buy choppers worth $770 million from the Italian defence group AgustaWestland has been at the centre of a major bribery scandal.

The High Court of Delhi on Tuesday dismissed a plea from India’s federal economic intelligence agency, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), seeking the cancellation of bail granted to businessman Ratul Puri, accused of money laundering in a deal, signed in 2010 between India and AgustaWestland for 12 choppers to ferry high-profile government functionaries such as President and Prime Minister.

​The law enforcement agency had argued in its plea that Puri, one of the key accused in the case, may influence witnesses if he was granted bail by the court. But the court rejected the plea.

Puri, the nephew of Chief of central Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath, was named a suspect in the charge sheet filed by the ED.

The Indian government, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had cancelled the deal in 2014, on the “grounds of breach of the Pre-contract Integrity Pact and the agreement by AWIL (AgustaWestland International Ltd)”.

The deal was cancelled after allegations of the payment of kickbacks to the tune of over $60 million to secure the contract emerged.

India’s top investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was probing the case, had secured custody of the main defendant in the case, Christian Michel, a British national, from Dubai in 2018.

The AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal was signed in 2010 by the then Congress-led alliance government. The deal was scrapped after Italy arrested the head of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, on charges of bribing Indian politicians and others to win the contracts. The deal stipulated the purchase of 12 VVIP choppers for the Indian Air Force.

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