HELI-EXPO: New AgustaWestland CEO strongly denies bribery claims

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Amid a police investigation in Italy and official condemnations in India, AgustaWestland executives opened the Heli-Expo convention with a strong denial of the allegations of bribery related to a now-frozen deal for 12 VIP-roled AW101s.

Daniele Romiti, AgustaWestland's newly appointed chief executive, ignored the bribery scandal throughout his presentation at the company's annual press conference held on the eve of the show. This was despite his ascent to the top post coming after predecessor Bruno Spagnolini was replaced following his arrest by the Italian authorities.

However, the topic was finally addressed - and summarily dismissed - by Romiti in the question and answer session that followed.

"As we statedno wrong moves were made by the company, so we are confident of that," Romiti said. "The selection, generally speaking, is made in a competitive environment."

AgustaWestland has denied paying bribes to Indian government officials and Italian political leaders, amid an ongoing probe by Italian police and the expressed disbelief of Indian defence minister AK Antony. In a parliamentary debate last week, Anthony said of AgustaWestland's denials: "They have denied the whole thing. We don't believe it."

However, Romiti pointed to a 14 February news release by Antony's department that upheld the legality of the selection process, which awarded the contract for helicopters to AgustaWestland over rival bids from Sikorsky and Mil.

Meanwhile, AgustaWestland is continuing to train Indian helicopter crews in Yeovil, UK, despite the Indian government's decision to freeze payment on the contract pending the results of the investigation by Italian prosecutors and India's Central Bureau of Investigation.

"We are confident in a short period of time we will have a more clear situation," Romiti said.