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Originally published Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 12:47 AM

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India agency files case against air force ex-chief

India's top investigative agency Wednesday filed a criminal case against a former air force chief and 12 other men on charges of cheating and conspiracy in a $750 million helicopter deal marred by bribery.

The Associated Press

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NEW DELHI —

India's top investigative agency Wednesday filed a criminal case against a former air force chief and 12 other men on charges of cheating and conspiracy in a $750 million helicopter deal marred by bribery.

The Central Bureau of Investigation filed the charges against Shashi Tyagi, three of his cousins and four defense companies after investigations revealed that huge bribes were paid to steer the contract to Italian defense group Finmeccanica's helicopter division, AgustaWestland.

The CBI is India's equivalent of the FBI.

The agency searched the homes and offices of Tyagi and his cousins, who it suspects were among those who received bribes to clinch the purchase of 12 helicopters two years ago.

India's defense ministry received three of the helicopters in December but has placed the rest of the contract on hold.

Among the 13 men involved in the case is Satish Bagrodia, the brother of a former central minister Santosh Bagrodia, who belongs to India's ruling Congress party.

CBI said it had filed the criminal charges based on evidence it had gathered from questioning the men and from documents it obtained from Italy and from India's defense ministry that indicated that alterations were made in the helicopter specifications to favor AgustaWestland.

The inquiry into the helicopter contract began after Italian authorities last month arrested Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of Finmeccanica, in Italy on charges that the company paid bribes in India. Orsi, who has been jailed, denies wrongdoing.

Italian authorities also placed AgustaWestland chief Bruno Spagnolini under house arrest.

Tyagi has also denied any wrongdoing in the case and said decisions on the helicopter deal were taken before he assumed the top job in the air force.

The developments come at a time when New Delhi and Rome are entangled in a diplomatic row after Italy's refusal this week to return two Italian marines facing trial in India for the killing of two fishermen off the southwest Indian coast last year.

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