Italy's Finmeccanica delays results over India probe

ROME/MILAN Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:55am IST

The headquarters of Italian defence and aerospace company Finmeccanica is seen in Rome May 3, 2012. REUTERS/Max Rossi/Files

The headquarters of Italian defence and aerospace company Finmeccanica is seen in Rome May 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi/Files

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ROME/MILAN (Reuters) - Italian defence group Finmeccanica (SIFI.MI) has delayed publication of its 2012 results after a bribery probe connected with the sale of 12 helicopters to Indian authorities, it said on Thursday.

After a board meeting, Finmeccanica said it had postponed the approval of its full-year accounts from March 12 to a new meeting to be held no later than April 30, to "evaluate the impact of recent economic events on its balance sheet."

Finmeccanica is at the centre of an Italian probe alleging that it paid bribes to win the 560 million euro contract awarded in 2010 to its Anglo-Italian helicopter unit AgustaWestland.

An Indian delegation is in Italy to collect evidence relating to the probe, which escalated last week with the arrest of the then head of Finmeccanica, Giuseppe Orsi.

The Italian investigation is putting pressure on the Indian government, already buffeted by a string of graft cases. It has also become a political issue in Italy ahead of parliamentary elections on February 24-25.

Italian prosecutors accuse Orsi of paying bribes to intermediaries to secure the helicopter deal back in 2010, when he was head of AgustaWestland. According to the arrest warrant, the Indian tender was twisted to favour the Italian firm.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday the government had nothing to hide.

Orsi has denied any wrongdoing.

Finmeccanica's executives met a senior Indian delegation in Italy on Thursday about the probe, and both sides said the talks were positive.

"A very positive meeting for our side. The company has assured us it will provide all the papers to satisfy our concerns about the allegations ... in the shortest possible time," an Indian official with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

India's defence ministry has threatened to cancel the helicopter deal unless Finmeccanica can give assurances that no bribes were paid. Three AW101 helicopters, manufactured in Yeovil in the UK, have already been delivered to India.

Italian financial newspaper MF said on Thursday the group would make a writedown on the Indian helicopters order.

Finmeccanica, Italy's second-largest private sector employer, was not immediately available to comment on the report.

The four-man Indian delegation, led by Indian Ministry of Defence Joint Secretary Shri Arun Kumar Bal and Central Bureau of Investigation official Mahipal Yadav, arrived in northern Italy earlier this week and has already met judge Luca Labianca, who signed off Orsi's arrest warrant.

The Indian official said on Thursday the team would also meet a high-ranking official at Italy's Foreign Affairs Ministry in Rome on Thursday as well as Eugenio Fusco, the Italian prosecutor investigating the case, on Friday.

Finmeccanica said in its statement its board had also discussed the sale of its Ansaldo Energia unit but no decision on this issue was taken.

The group has put Ansaldo Energia up for sale as part of an asset disposal plan aimed at streamlining the company and avoiding credit rating downgrades, but the sale process has dragged on for months.

Finmeccanica also named Daniele Romiti as the chief of its helicopter unit, replacing Bruno Spagnolini, who was arrested earlier in February with Finmeccanica's former CEO as part of the probe.

(Editing by Erica Billingham, Phil Berlowitz and Tim Dobbyn)

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