British PM on India trade trip as graft scandal erupts

Mon Feb 18, 2013 8:18am EST
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By Andrew Osborn

MUMBAI (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron flew into India on Monday promising to try to revive Indian interest in the Eurofighter even though New Delhi has chosen a French-made rival and as a graft scandal is engulfing an Anglo-Italian helicopter deal.

Making his second visit to India as prime minister, Cameron's trip comes days after a similar trade mission by French President Francois Hollande, underlining how Europe's debt-stricken states are competing to tap into one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Cameron's delegation, which includes representatives of more than 100 companies, is the biggest taken abroad by a British premier and includes four ministers and nine MPs.

But the timing of the trip is not ideal. India said on Friday it wanted to cancel a $750 million deal for a dozen helicopters made by AgustaWestland, the Anglo-Italian subsidiary of Italy's Finmeccanica, over bribery claims.

That will not make Cameron's job of persuading India to buy more civil and military hardware easier, and Indian officials have told the local press they intend to press Cameron for "a fully-fledged report" on what Britain knows about the scandal.

Britain has said it wants to wait until the end of the Italian investigation before commenting in full, but has given India an interim report on the subject.

"This is something for the Italian and Indian authorities to deal with and I'm sure they will," Cameron told reporters on Monday, saying issues had been raised that needed to be settled.

Cameron said he would tell the Indian government that the Eurofighter jet, which is partly built in Britain, remains an attractive option if India decides to review a multi-billion dollar deal to buy 126 French-made Rafale fighters. New Delhi rejected the Eurofighter last year.   Continued...

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives to pay tributes at a memorial dedicated to policemen who lost their lives in November 2008 attacks, in Mumbai February 18, 2013. Cameron arrived in India on Monday as a graft scandal engulfed an Anglo-Italian helicopter deal and immediately told his hosts they should open up their economy because Britain has done the same for Indian firms. REUTERS/Stringer