British PM offers to cooperate with India on graft probe

Updated 19 February 2013
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British PM offers to cooperate with India on graft probe

NEW DELHI: British Prime Minister David Cameron promised full cooperation yesterday with an Indian investigation into alleged corruption in a helicopter deal, an issue which has clouded his trip to New Delhi.
Cameron arrived in India on Monday with what he called the biggest-ever British overseas business delegation, pushing for better access to the booming market of 1.2 billion people and greater trade.
While keen to persuade India of the merits of the part-British Eurofighter jets, he has been dogged by another aviation deal involving the Anglo-Italian helicopter maker AgustaWestland.
Italian authorities arrested the boss of AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica last week during an investigation into bribes allegedly paid to secure the $750-million Indian government contract in 2010.
Press reports indicate one of the accused middlemen is based in London, while the helicopters are being made in southwest England.
“We will respond to any request for information. I am glad that the Italian authorities are looking into this issue in detail,” Cameron told a press conference with Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh.
Singh, eager to show his graft-plagued government taking action ahead of national elections next year, said he had conveyed “our very serious concerns regarding allegations that unethical means were used” to secure the deal.
“I have sought the full assistance of the UK in this case,” he added.
The scandal has been an unwanted distraction for Cameron who is eager to forge a new partnership with Britain’s former colony, believing their historical links should provide a foundation for a closer partnership.
Like other Western leaders who arrive eyeing the country’s enviable economic growth rates, he is keen for British companies to benefit from India’s vast investment in infrastructure, health, energy and defense.
Executives in his delegation from the worlds of banking, insurance and retail have also been encouraged by the Indian government’s moves late last year to drop some barriers to foreign investors.
Cameron has targeted a doubling of annual bilateral trade with India, from 11.5 billion pounds ($17.8 billion) in 2010 to 23 billion pounds by the time he faces re-election in 2015.
“Britain wants to be your partner of choice,” Cameron said during a factory visit in commercial capital Mumbai on Monday.
Harsh Pant, a expert on Indian foreign relations at King’s College university in London, said that Britain and India were bound by their history and large British-Indian population, but that New Delhi was destined to remain aloof.
“India has never been about close relationships with any country,” he said, referring to its embrace of the non-aligned movement. “They will never be the sort of partners that some countries expect them to be or want them to be.” In moves designed to appeal to his hosts, Cameron has announced a new same-day visa service for Indian business people and stressed that British universities remain welcoming places for Indian students.
He has played cricket to highlight the countries’ common love of the game and joked and spoke with 400 students and Bollywood mega-star Aamir Khan on Tuesday at a New Delhi girls’ college.
Singh thanked Cameron for his “strong personal commitment to India” — this is his second visit since becoming prime minister in 2010 — and said he had invited increased British investments in India.

“We expressed satisfaction with progress in our economic engagement, while stressing the need to do more to take the relationship to a new level,” he added.
In 2010, Cameron had given heavy backing during talks with Indian leaders to the part-British Eurofighter consortium, which was competing for a $12 billion contract to sell 126 fighter jets to the air force.
Last January, India chose France’s Dassault Aviation for exclusive negotiations but the deal has still not been signed.
The first allegations of wrongdoing in the AgustaWestland deal emerged last year, but India’s government has said it was unable to gain information from Italian or British governments about the investigation.


Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

Updated 2 min 25 sec ago
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Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

ROME: Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister accused a German charity on Thursday of ignoring coast guard orders when its Dutch-flagged ship picked up 226 migrants off Libya’s coast and he said they should be taken to the Netherlands not Italy.
Earlier this month Matteo Salvini pledged to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving the Gibraltar-flagged Aquarius stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.
On Thursday, Mission Lifeline, a charity based in Dresden, Germany, pulled migrants off two rubber boats in international waters even though it was told by Italy that Libya’s coast guard was coming to get them, a spokesman for the charity said. They would not have been safe if taken back to Libya, he said.
Salvini, also leader of the anti-immigrant League party, addressed the charity in a Facebook video: “You have intentionally not listened to Italian or Libyan authorities. Good. Then take this load of human beings to the Netherlands.”
International maritime guidelines say that people rescued at sea should be taken to the nearest “place of safety.”
The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies do not deem Libya “a place of safety” because they say migrants there are subject to indefinite detention, physical abuse, forced labor and extortion.
A Lifeline statement indicated its vessel was heading northwards with the 226 migrants and called on “the competent authorities to swiftly react according to their obligation to designate a place of safety.”
“They have a Dutch flag, but they are not registered in the Netherlands, and therefore are not under Dutch state flag responsibility,” Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs said in response, without elaborating.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said he had asked the coast guard to investigate state flag issue.
Lifeline spokesman Axel Steier said the migrants aboard its boat included 14 women and four small children. “We didn’t want to wait for the Libyan coast guard because people were in danger,” Steier told Reuters.
Waiting for the Libyans would have constituted allowing “an illegal pushback” of refugees to a country where they are not safe, he added.
With its hard line on rescue boats, Italy’s new populist government has thrust migration back onto the European Union agenda. Italy has seen more than 640,000 land on its shores since 2014 and is currently sheltering 170,000 asylum seekers.
Germany is also seeking to restrict asylum-seekers’ movement in the bloc. An emergency “mini-summit” has been called for Brussels on Sunday to discuss immigration ahead of a full, 28-state EU summit on June 28-29.
Toninelli, who oversees Italy’s ports and coast guard, had called last weekend on the Netherlands to recall Lifeline and another Dutch-flagged ship, Seefuchs. On Thursday, Toninelli said Lifeline was acting “outside of international law.”
“The transport minister is lying,” Steier shot back. “We always act in line with international law. Always.”
Salvini has denounced the charity ships as “deputy traffickers,” suggesting they profit from the rescues.
Earlier this week a tribunal in Palermo shelved an inquiry into whether German charity Sea Watch and Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms were in contact with smugglers, saying no evidence was found.