IMAGE: Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the multi-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal, being produced at a CBI court in Patiala House Courts, New Delhi, on Wednesday. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo
Christian Michel, the alleged middleman who has been chargesheeted in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, was on Wednesday produced before a Delhi court which allowed his five-day custodial interrogation by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
He will again be produced in the court on December 10.
Michel, who is a citizen of United Kingdom, was brought to India late on Tuesday night following his extradition by the United Arab Emirates in connection with the case.
He was produced before Special CBI Judge Arvind Kumar which allowed discussions between him and his advocate for five minutes.
Michel’s advocate asked the court to send him to judicial custody but the CBI sought his 14-days custodial interrogation to confront him with evidence and unearth the money trail in the scam.
However, the judge allowed the CBI to interrogate Michel for five days in its custody.
The court asked the CBI to provide all relevant documents including the chargesheet to Michel.
A bail plea was also moved on his behalf. The court did not give any specific date for hearing the bail plea.
Security was tightened at the Patiala House court complex hours before the production of Michel.
Around 15-20 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force and 30 Delhi Police officials had been deputed in the court complex as well as outside several of its gates, said one of the police officials. The police force, included women officials.
Michel, 54, landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on a Gulfstream jet at 10.35 pm on Tuesday night after which he was arrested by the CBI in connection with the case.
Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI.
Both the agencies have notified an Interpol red corner notice (RCN) against him after the court issued a non-bailable warrant against him.
Michel had denied the charges. The CBI has alleged there was an estimated loss of €398.21 million (approximately Rs 2,666 crore) to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010 for the supply of VVIP choppers worth €556.262 million.
The ED, in its charge sheet filed against Michel in June 2016, had alleged that he received €30 million (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland.
The money was nothing but ‘kickbacks’ paid by the firm to execute the 12 helicopter deal in favour of the firm in the ‘guise of’ genuine transactions for performing multiple work contracts in the country, according to the charge sheet.
The ED investigation found that remittances made by Michel through his Dubai-based firm Global Services to a media firm he floated in Delhi, along with two Indians, were made from the funds which he got from AgustaWestland through ‘criminal activity’ and corruption in the chopper deal, which led to the subsequent generation of proceeds of crime.
Michel may prove to be missing link in AgustaWestland money trail
Michel may prove to be the missing link in the money trail in the alleged multi-crore scam being probed by the CBI.
A proposal for the Rs 3,600 crore helicopter deal to ferry VVIPs was initiated in 1999 to find an alternative to the Indian Air Force flying horses of Soviet era — Mi-8s.
Several factors such as the inability of the choppers to operate at night, in adverse weather, and safely at places in elevation beyond 2000 metres besides their technical life getting over were primary reasons that the IAF decided to replace its eight Mi-8 helicopters used for ferrying VVIPs like the President, the prime minister, the Vice President and the defence minister.
The then National Democratic Alliance government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee floated a global Request for Proposal in March 2002 for acquisition of 12 helicopters for VVIP duties to which four companies responded.
Three were shortlisted by the Technical Evaluation Committee and subjected to flying tests but AgustaWestland’s contender EH101 was not certified to fly at 6,000 m and it did not participate in the evaluation.
After flight evaluation, EC-225 of Eurocopter, France was found suitable for acquisition by the government.
A meeting took place under the aegis of the principal secretary to Vajpayee on November 19, 2003 where it was decided that since VVIPs rarely travel at 6,000 m height, the ceiling should be reduced to 4,500 m which could avoid single vendor problem and give more alternatives to choose from.
The principal secretary also wrote a stern letter to the IAF chief on December 22, 2003 that the PMO and the prime minister’s guarding force SPG (Special Protection Group) were not consulted before setting mandatory parameters for selecting the VVIP choppers.
This reduction in ceiling became the primary allegation in the corruption case in the helicopters’ deal which was signed by the Congress led United Progressive Alliance government in 2010.
The UPA government deliberated upon and incorporated the changes suggested by the principal secretary. It floated another proposal in which three companies namely Sikorsky, United States; AgustaWestland, United Kingdom; and Rosoboronexport, Russia responded to the RFP.
The Russian company was ruled out over the issue of earnest money leaving only Sikorsky and AgustaWestland in the race.
They were subjected to flight tests in the US and the UK respectively and AgustaWestland choppers were selected for the deal.
The CBI has alleged that the then IAF chief S P Tyagi played a role in recommending the reduction in operational ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 m to 4,500 m which brought AgustaWestland in the race.
It has alleged that the IAF was strongly opposed to changes but when Tyagi became the chief, he recommended these.
This, according to the agency, was allegedly done at the behest of Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland’s top executives who engaged the services of three middlemen– Michel, Guido Haschke and Carlos Gerosa who allegedly paid bribes to Tyagi and his cousins Rajiv, Sandeep and Julie.
The agency has alleged that firms of Michel received about €42.27 million, approximately seven per cent from the companies to swing the Rs 3,600 crore deal in their favour.
The bribes were allegedly routed through companies of Michel and advocate Gautam Khaitan in the form of multiple contracts through layered transactions to camouflage them.
The money trail, however, is believed to be incomplete and the CBI will need statements and questioning of Michel to fill the gaps to link Tyagi with payments from Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland, officials said.
Michel on his part has alleged that the CBI team wants him to take names of Gandhi family, a claim which had been refuted by the agency.
The CBI had filed its charge sheet in September last year naming Tyagi, first chief of the Indian Air Force to face corruption charges, and his cousins, Indian middlemen and companies accused.
Along with them, five foreigners — the then Finmeccanica chief Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland’s Bruno Spagnolini and middlemen Michel, Haschke and Gerosa were also named.
After the case was registered in 2012, Michel had escaped from India and did not join investigation, CBI’s spokesperson said.
A non-bailable warrant was issued by a special Delhi court followed by an Interpol Red Corner Notice in 2015 which led to his arrest in February 2017 in Dubai.
After a Dubai court cleared his extradition rejecting all his contentions, the UAE government gave its nod to his extradition after which he was brought to India by a team of CBI led by Joint Director Sai Manohar, who was part of the SIT once led by Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
PM latching on to Michel for ‘smear campaign’ against opposition leaders: Congress
The Congress on Wednesday said the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were ‘latching’ on to Michel for a ‘smear campaign’ against opposition leaders.
Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, in a statement, alleged that facing ‘imminent defeat’ in state polls, Prime Minister Modi and the BJP government were seeking to ‘weave a web of lies’ and construct a ‘mesh of deception to hoodwink’ the people of India in the chopper case.
In his rally in Rajasthan on the last day of campaigning before the state elections on Friday, Modi referred to the extradition of Michel saying, “The government has brought the middleman involved in a helicopter scam from Dubai. He served politicians and will now disclose secrets.”
Surjewala accused the Modi government of indulging in a ‘cover up conspiracy’ to hide its role in helping and promoting the ‘banned company’ AgustaWestland and its parent company, Finmeccanica.
“While the BJP and PM Modi are seeking fake credit without being subjected to investigation by the CBI for their own complicity and connivance, they are latching on to Christian Michel for committing a smear campaign against opposition leaders. The truth qua Christian Michel is already out in the open,” he claimed.
Surjewala alleged the statement made by Michel’s advocate Rosemary Patrizi Dos Anjos after his detention in July had ‘clearly brought out’ that the Modi government and its agencies were forcing him to sign a false confessional statement naming UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in return for complete exoneration from any charge whatsoever in the case.
“Even Christian Michel’s sister had come out and reiterated the coercions of falsely naming opposition leaders as a ticket of exoneration of Christian Michel,” he said.
He claimed that never before in the history of India has a prime minister been found ‘complicit’ in gaining ‘false evidence’ against opposition leaders to seek ‘revenge’.
Surjewala also said it was time that CBI investigated the prime minister for his alleged role in ‘exonerating’ AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica instead of ‘weaving a fake story’ to deflect attention from the ‘imminent defeat’ in five states.
The ruling BJP had said on Tuesday that the extradition in the case from the UPA era is a diplomatic victory for India and could spell ‘serious trouble’ for the Congress’s ‘first family’, referring to Gandhis.
It also asserted that the development was an unequivocal affirmation of the Modi government’s ‘seriousness in fighting corruption’.