New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Saturday informed Delhi’s Patiala House Court that the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case, Christian Michel, has named Congress’ former President Sonia Gandhi, while in custody. However, it is not clear in what reference has Gandhi been named. “Christian Michel has also spoken about “the son of the Italian lady” and how he is going to become the “next prime minister of the country,” the Enforcement Directorate lawyer further told the court.
Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by the ED 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. However, he had denied the charges.
“We need to decipher who is this ‘big man’ referred to as ‘R’ is in the communication between Christian Michel and other people. We need to confront Michel with other people to decipher this,” the Enforcement Directorate further told the court. The probe agency added that Christian Michel has identified how HAL was removed from the deal and the deal was offered to Tata instead.
Claiming that Michel was being tutored from outside, the ED also sought a ban on his lawyer’s access to him. Following this, the court asked Christian Michel’s lawyers to maintain a distance while meeting him. The Court also restricted the time limit of lawyers to meet Michel to 15 minutes every morning and evening.
Meanwhile, the Congress party alleged that Michel is being forced by the Narendra Modi-led government to name a ‘particular family’. “There is pressure on Michel to name a particular family, why is the ‘chowkidaar’ trying to pressurise the govt agencies to name a family? BJP script writers are working over time,”said Congress leader RPN Singh.
Notably, Michel was taken into custody by the ED over money laundering charges in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, after he was extradited from the UAE earlier this month. He was produced in Delhi’s Patiala House Court after seven days in the probe agency’s custody.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), in its charge sheet filed against Michel in June 2016, had alleged that he received EUR 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 “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 being done in the chopper deal that led to the subsequent generation of proceeds of crime.
On January 1, 2014, India scrapped the contract with Italy-based Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF over an alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs 423 crore by it for securing the deal.
The CBI on September 1, 2017, had filed a charge sheet in the case in which Michel was named as one of the accused.
Former IAF Chief SP Tyagi (73) was also charge-sheeted by the CBI in a Delhi Court along with nine others in connection with a bribery case in the VVIP chopper deal. He is the first chief of the Indian Air Force to be charge-sheeted in a corruption or a criminal case by the CBI and he has denied all charges against him.
Besides him, the agency has also charge-sheeted retired Air Marshal JS Gujral along with eight others, including five foreign nationals, in the charge sheet filed before the Special CBI Judge. The Anglo-Italian company, AgustaWestland, is also one of the accused. Others named in the charge sheet are — Tyagi’s cousin Sanjeev alias Julie, advocate 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 charge-sheeted for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the IPC in the case relating to alleged bribery of Rs 450 crore. Tyagi, who had retired in 2007, his cousin Sanjeev and Khaitan were arrested on December 9 last year by the CBI in the case. These accused are currently on bail.