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Finmeccanica meets Indian officials on bribery probe

A visitor walks past a stand for Italian defence group Finmeccanica during the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) at the
A visitor walks past a stand for Italian defence group Finmeccanica during the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) at the

By Paolo Biondi

ROME (Reuters) - Senior management at Italy's state-owned defense group Finmeccanica met Indian officials who are looking into allegations of corruption connected with their government's purchase of a dozen helicopters.

The meeting was "positive" and will be discussed by Finmeccanica's board later in the day, the company's new Chief Executive Officer Alessandro Pansa said on Thursday.

The Indian delegation is in Italy to collect evidence on the case, which centers on allegations that Finmeccanica paid bribes to win a 560 million euro ($750 million) contract for the sale of 12 helicopters to the Indian government.

An Italian investigation, which escalated last week with the arrest of the then head of Finmeccanica chairman Giuseppe Orsi, is putting pressure on the Indian government, already buffeted by a string of graft cases. Orsi has denied any wrongdoing.

It has also become a political issue in the country ahead of parliamentary elections on February 24-25.

India's defense ministry has threatened Finmeccanica unit AgustaWestland with cancellation of the helicopter deal unless it can give assurances that no bribes were paid.

Finmeccanica has until Friday to respond to requests made by Indian authorities. It has said it would cooperate with them to clarify the matter.

Finmeccanica's board meeting on Thursday is also set to discuss the long-delayed sale of its AnsaldoEnergia unit but no decision on this issue was expected, a source close to the matter said. Finmeccanica declined to comment.

The group, Italy's second-largest private sector employer, has put AnsaldoEnergia up for sale as part of an asset disposal plan aimed at streamlining the company and avoiding credit rating downgrades.

($1 = 0.7479 euros)

(Additional reporting and writing by Danilo Masoni; Editing by Erica Billingham)

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