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VVIP chopper: CBI team to leave for Italy today

New Delhi: A CBI team is likely to leave for Italy on Monday to probe the allegations of kickbacks in the USD 750 mn/Rs 3,600 crore deal for the 12 AgustaWestland 101 choppers, officials said. 

Official sources said the team, comprising a senior investigating officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and a law officer, would meet Italian prosecutors to ascertain the details of the case. 

\"The team will leave as soon as possible. Hopefully by Monday,\" an official told a news agency. 

He said a lawyer is likely to be engaged in Italy to help the team understand the Italian law, represent India\'s case with the local courts, and expedite the process of getting documents. 

The defence ministry is also sending a senior joint secretary to Italy \"to gather as much evidence as possible\" relating to the allegations of corruption in the acquisition of the helicopters for the VVIP use by the Indian Air Force. 

The official, AK Bal, will leave for Rome on Monday. 

Sources said that the defence ministry official and the CBI team were likely to travel together to Italy. 

They said the CBI team will probe if firms had been floated to route kickbacks in the helicopter deal with AgustaWestland, a Britain-based subsidiary of Italian firm Finmeccanica. 

They said the investigating agency has so far not registered a case as it wants to get more information about the kickbacks and establish authenticity of documents. 

The sources said the CBI was handed over a letter from the defence ministry seeking a probe which also contained some press clippings. 

The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has also sought a report from the ministry on alleged irregularities in the chopper deal. 

The helicopter deal with AgustaWestland could come up during discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron who is arriving India Monday. 

Britain has told India that it wanted to wait for the investigation in Italy to be completed. 

The Indian government has already put on hold the deal and launched the process to cancel it amid allegations that kickbacks of 51 million euro (approx USD 68 mn) were paid to clinch the deal. 

It has also issued a show cause notice to AgustaWestland as to why the contract should not be scrapped in view of the corruption allegations. 

AgustaWestland has said it was preparing to clarify the points raised by the Indian government. 

The helicopters were for the IAF\'s elite Communication Squadron, which ferries the president, the prime minister and other VVIPs. 

The IAF had sought the choppers as a replacement for its ageing Mi-17 cargo helicopters that were modified for VVIP use. Three of the 12 AgustaWestland helicopters have already been supplied. 

Italian agencies on Tuesday arrested Finmeccanica chief executive officer (CEO) Giuseppe Orsi for alleged corruption to seal the deal. 

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