AgustaWestland ‘middleman’ remanded to probe agency’s custody.
New Delhi: Christian Michel, the alleged middleman chargesheeted and extradited to India in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland copter deal’s kickback case, will be interrogated by the CBI for five days after a Delhi court on Wednesday accepted the probe agency’s request seeking his custody.
Though the probe agency had sought Mr Michel’s custody for 14 days, special CBI judge Arvind Kumar permitted his questioning only for five days. The probe agency said it wants to confront him with evidence and unearth the “deep-rooted conspiracy” and money trail in the scam.
Mr Michel, 57, who is a citizen of the United Kingdom, was brought to India late Tuesday night following his extradition by the UAE. On Wednesday, he was presented in court, following overnight questioning.
Sources said that Mr Michel was subjected to intense questioning after he reached India and slept for barely two hours. Doctors were called to attend to him after he suffered an anxiety attack, they added.
While seeking his custody, the CBI told the court that his custody is required to identify his accomplices, including IAF officials, bureaucrats and politicians, who were influenced or instrumental in changing the decisions which made Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland eligible to participate in the biding process and ultimately bagged the contract for 12 AW-101 helicopters.
The CBI said that investigations has revealed that Mr Michel had entered into 12 contracts through two of his firms — Global Trade and Commerce Ltd, London, and Global Services FZE, Dubai — with Finmec-canica, Agusta-Westland, Westland Helicopters and others.
Meanwhile, the British high commission in Delhi sought consular access to Mr Michel.
“We are in contact with his family and the Emirati authorities regarding his case, and are urgently seeking information from the Indian authorities on his circumstances,” said a spokesperson of the high commission.
Earlier, Mr Michel’s lawyers moved a bail application on his behalf but the court did not give any specific date for hearing the plea.
In a related development, Aljo K. Joseph, one of Mr Michel’s two lawyers, was expelled by the Congress from its youth organisation after the BJP sought to link the alleged middleman to the Congress.
Suresh Nakhua, a spokesperson of the Mumbai BJP unit, had said that Mr Joseph was a Youth Congress functionary, evoking sharp reactions from various quarters.
Following criticism, the Congress expelled Mr Joseph from the party and said, in a statement, “Mr Joseph appeared in his personal capacity. He did not consult the Youth Congress before appearing in the case. The IYC does not endorse such actions. The IYC has removed Mr Joseph from IYC’s legal department and expelled him from the party with immediate effect.”
A tight security blanket was thrown around the Patiala House court complex hours before Mr Michel was produced by the CBI before the special judge. Around 15-20 personnel of the CRPF and 30 Delhi Police officials had been deputed in the court complex, said a police official.
Mr Michel had 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. He is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by the ED and the CBI.
The CBI has alleged there was an estimated loss of Euro 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 Euro 556.262 million. On January 1, 2014, India scrapped the contract with Italy-based Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland amid allegations of wrongdoings and payment of kickbacks to the tune of `423 crore by it for securing the deal. Agusta had denied the allegations.
The ED in its charge sheet filed against Mr Michel in June 2016, had alleged that he received about `225 crore in kickbacks from AgustaWestland.
The ED investigation found that remittances made by Mr 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.
The CBI on September 1, 2017, had filed a charge sheet in the case in which Mr Michel was named as one of the accused.
Former IAF chief S.P. Tyagi was also chargesheeted by the CBI along with nine others in connection with a bribery case. Mr Tyagi (73) is the first chief of the Indian Air Force to be chargesheeted in a corruption or a criminal case by the CBI and he has denied all charges against him. Besides him, the agency has also chargesheeted retired Air Marshal J.S. Gujral along with eight others, including five foreign nationals, in the chargesheet.
Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland is also one of the accused. Others named in the chargesheet are — Mr Tyagi’s cousin Sanjeev alias Julie, lawyer Gautam Khaitan, alleged European middlemen Carlo Gerosa, Christian Michel, Guido Haschke, former AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini and former Finmeccanica Chairman Giuseppe Orsi. They have been chargesheeted for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the IPC in the case relating to alleged bribery of `450 crore.
Mr Tyagi, who had retired in 2007, his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi and lawyer Gautam Khaitan were arrested on December 9 last year by the CBI in the case. These accused are currently on bail.