AgustaWestland rejects Eurocopter claims which blocked AFM helicopter tender

Avionics manufacturer files judicial protest against Eurocopter SAS over contested Armed Forces helicopter contracts.

AgustaWestland have filed a judicial protest rejecting claims made by Eurocopter
AgustaWestland have filed a judicial protest rejecting claims made by Eurocopter

AgustaWestland SpA has filed a judicial protest against Eurocopter SAS rejecting accusations which last week led to a Court ordering the suspension of a €58 million contract for the procurement of up to three helicopters for the Armed Forces.

In the protest, filed by representative company Viroc Limited, AgustaWestland denied any irregularities during the process, and claims of unfair disadvantage made by Eurocopter.

The tender has so far been put on hold on the strength of a decree issued by Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon, who upheld a request for a prohibitory injunction by Eurocopter, who pointed out what it described as "anomalous" and "unlawful" changes in the specifications of the tender, to suit rival bidder Agusta Westland SpA, a subsidiary of the Italian firm Finmeccanica.

The unlawful changes pointed out by Eurocopter are said to be "identical" to what has so far been discovered by Italian police a week ago, who arrested Finmeccanica's most senior officials for allegedly bribing Indian officials in a tender for the procurement of military helicopters.

As was the case in India, the anomalies flagged in Malta are related to the alleged tweaking of specifications in the take-off weight of the helicopters, which when compared to Eurocopter, allegedly suit Finmeccanica and its subsidiary supplier Agusta Westland.

Eurocopter claims that the Maltese contracts department had written to them four days after the tender was issued, saying it had made 'formatting' changes to the first page of the tender document, which after a cautious analysis turned out to be a dramatic change in the maximum take-off weight of the helicopters.

The change was noteworthy to Eurocopter, who immediately pointed out that the change was deliberately made to accommodate Agusta Westland whose helicopters were heavier.

When Eurocopter wrote to ask questions about the change in the document, both the contracts department and the AFM replied that they "knew nothing about it" - a legal document sent by Eurocopter's lawyers and seen by MaltaToday shows.

Additionally, Eurocopter have pointed out that the AFM's only patrol craft with a helipad is the 'Diciotti' class P-61 vessel, which was delivered in 2005 and built by Fincantieri - Finmeccanica's marine arm - and a sister company to Agusta Westland. This led Eurocopter to suspect that the change in tonnage was meant to put Agusta Westland as the definite beneficiary of the contract.

Additionally, the P-61 vessel was financed by the fifth Italian financial protocol to Malta, and the fact that Finmeccanica is owned by the Italian state serves to raise eyebrows about the way the tender may have been adjusted to suit "political obligations" towards Italy.

In their submissions to the law courts, Eurocopter pointed out that since August 2011, the AFM were known to be considering a helicopter with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of five tonnes, in order to allow seaborne operations and integration with its marine craft P-61.

Eurocopter spared no words in alleging that changes to the tender document when tendering was already underway were "drafted or modified in a way to tailor the bid for specific bidders and consequently lead to the exclusion of others."

Only Eurocopter and Agusta Westland bid for the AFM tender issued last September, 75% of which will be financed by the Europea Union's border control budget.

But Eurocopter was informed that they were being "administratively disqualified" from the process last month, on the basis that their objection to the changes did not go through the right channels of redress, and that their submission was technically wrong because the financial package was included in two CDs and not in one.

Eurocopter have initiated legal proceedings against the Maltese government seeking redress for their omission from the tender process, and will be filing for damages in the days to come.