Friday, Dec 06, 2019 | Last Update : 11:59 PM IST

BJP, Congress spar over copter deal ‘bribes’

AGE CORRESPONDENT WITH AGENCY INPUTS
Published : Jan 1, 2019, 1:51 am IST
Updated : Jan 1, 2019, 1:52 am IST

A Delhi court had on Saturday imposed restrictions on Mr Michel meeting his lawyers in ED’s custody.

AgustaWestland chopper deal 'middleman' Christian Michel (Photo: PTI)
 AgustaWestland chopper deal 'middleman' Christian Michel (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: The BJP-Congress all-out war against each other on corruption charges got hotter on Monday with BJP president Amit Shah alleging a “time-tested and deep friendship” between the Gandhis and alleged middleman in the VVIP chopper deal case, Christian Michel. The Congress fielded former defence minister A.K. Antony to assert that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi never interfered in any defence deals and accused the Modi government of manufacturing “lies.”

Mr Shah’s attack on the Gandhis came a few days after the Enforcement Directorate informed a Delhi court that the alleged middleman named “Mrs Gandhi” and the “son of the Italian lady” during its custody.

The BJP has alleged that the 3,700 crore AugustaWestland deal for VVIP helicopters during the UPA regime involved a bribery of around `360 crore, out of which the Congress leaders got Rs 150 crore, while the Congress has accused the Modi government and the BJP of misusing probe agencies to manufacture lies to deflect attention from the wrongdoings in the Rafale jet deal. In a series of tweets on Monday, Mr Shah referred to Mr Michel’s reported attempt to pass on a paper chit to his lawyer and asked if the British national wanted details of his questioning by investigators to be passed onto “Mrs Gandhi”.

“Trails of the AgustaWestland case… the SOS of Christian Michel. Does anyone know why Christian Michel passed on the details of questioning on Mrs Gandhi to his lawyer? Did he want them to be passed on to Mrs Gandhi herself? Why?” he tweeted.

Mr Shah said, “In national interest, Michel’s lawyer must tell us about the existence of documents of 2008, which make a reference to Mrs Gandhi. Evidently, the friendship between Michel and one family in India is time tested and deep.”

The BJP president also said that Mr Michel’s lawyer had admitted that the alleged middleman indeed pass a paper to him and claimed that he thought it was a list of medicines.

The BJP president took an apparent swipe at the Gandhi family, saying people have heard of Zandu balm and Tiger balm — medicines used to relieve pain — but what is this “family balm” that every middleman wants.

“In any case, what must be told again and again is the Congress background of Michel’s lawyer. The so-called expulsion remains a sham. He remains the conduit between Michel and Mrs Gandhi!” Mr Shah said, mocking the Congress decision to expel Aljo K Joseph, an office bearer in its youth wing, after he appeared as a counsel for Mr Michel.

Christian Michel, 54 , was extradited to India from Dubai earlier this month. He is one of the three alleged middlemen being investigated in Rs 3,700-crore VVIP chopper scam for allegedly organising bribes for Indian politicians and bureaucrats to push for the AgustaWestland deal, involving 12 luxury choppers, during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. He was currently being questioned by the ED over alleged economic offences related money laundering.

A Delhi court had on Saturday imposed restrictions on Mr Michel meeting his lawyers in ED’s custody. The directions were given after the probe agency said he was misusing legal access by passing chits to advocates asking them how to tackle questions on “Mrs Gandhi”.

The agency also claimed that he had spoken about “son of an Italian lady” and taken “Mrs Gandhi’s” name in reference to a query. The ED, however, did not specify the context in which Mr Michel made the apparent references to Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi.

On Monday, a combative Congress retaliated to Mr Shah’s bid to drag the names of Mrs Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi into the chopper’s case.

Addressing a press conference in Parliament, Mr Antony said, “Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi never showed any interest... never interfered in the AgustaWestland deal. During my entire tenure as defence minister, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi never interfered in any defence deals.”

He said it was the Congress-led UPA government that had ordered a CBI inquiry the moment it came to know of corruption allegations in the VVIP AgustaWestland helicopter deal and initiated proceedings to blacklist the company.

Mr Antony claimed that the UPA government fought the case “unusually” in a Milan court against the chopper-making company and won it too.

The former defence minister accused the government of trying to follow vendetta politics saying, “The government and the BJP are misusing agencies to manufacture lies. I am surprised to know that the present government is spreading lies... Is trying to manufacture something out of nothing.”

The Opposition party alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government are AgustaWestland’s protectors and promoters.

“We cancelled the contract and started proceedings of blacklisting. But after we left, the Modi government did nothing against AgustaWestland. Instead of acting against the company, they favoured the company,” said Mr Antony.

The chopper case has given fresh political ammunition to the BJP at a time when Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been trying to push the BJP to the corner over the Rafale jet deal, which, he says, was mired in corruption and crony capitalism. He has alleged that the price of the deal was inflated, and the offset contract was wrongly given to a private company.

Tags: amit shah, vvip chopper deal, christian michel