AugustaWestland scam: Christian Michel denies bribery charge during CBI grilling

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(Online Desk)

Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the multicrore AgustaWestland helicopter deal,  ‘aggressively denied’ taking bribes from UPA or other government officials while accepting that he had received a ‘consultancy fee’ from AgustaWestland, said a media report.  

Michel was remanded to CBI custody on Wednesday following his extradition to India from authorities in Dubai, UAE.

Michel, 57, had an “anxiety attack” on reaching the CBI headquarters. Doctors were called to attend to him. After treatment, he was questioned about the money trail and identification of documents.

On the ‘bribery’ notes where UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is described as the ‘driving force behind the VVIP choppers’, Michel claimed he had dyslexia and that they were written by another middleman Guido Haschke. The notes listed alleged payments to government officials and bureaucrats.

The media report quoted a CBI official as saying that Michel was shifting blame on to Haschke to protect the politicians he’s linked with in India. He also said that Michel turned aggressive when presented with documents that allegedly showed that he had got 2 million euros from AgustaWestland, which he transferred to other companies and individuals.

Michel was allowed to sleep for two hours between 4 am and 6 am on Wednesday before being given breakfast. After 6 am, he was again questioned by officials of the Special Investigation Team of the CBI.

Once his extradition was cleared by the UAE government, Christian Michel was flown to India along with a CBI team led by Joint Director Sai Manohar. He landed at 22:35 pm on Tuesday at the Indira Gandhi International Airport from where he was taken into CBI custody after completion of formalities.

Escorted by a small convoy of police cars and bikes, he was taken to the CBI headquarters’ lockup at the ground floor of the imposing 11-floor steel and glass building where he reached around 1:20 am on Wednesday.

He was taken to the Patiala House court around 4 pm Wednesday which sent him to five days CBI custody.

The CBI wants to question him to confront him with certain documents and confidential material which he allegedly had sent to his masters in Italy through fax, the agency claimed. It also wants to know how the money, Euro 42.27 million, which was received by Michel’s companies from Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland, was distributed further to establish money trail of alleged bribes paid to swing the Rs. 3,600 crore 12-helicopter deal for VVIP flights, it said.

The agency has alleged that Christian Michel has evaded any probe in the matter which puts him on a different pedestal than Guido Haschke — another middleman — who faced trial in Italy and entered in plea bargain.

The CBI had filed a charge sheet against him in September last year.

“An open non-bailable arrest warrant dated September 24, 2015, was issued by the special judge, CBI cases, Patiala House Courts, New Delhi,” CBI’s spokesperson said.

On the basis of this warrant, a Red Corner Notice was issued by the Interpol which led to his arrest in Dubai in February 2017, he said.

Michel was behind bars in Dubai since he was arrested and sent to custody pending the legal and judicial procedure in the UAE. After the courts cleared his extradition, the UAE government ordered him to be taken to India rejecting his plea that he was a British citizen.

It was alleged that he had entered into a criminal conspiracy with co-accused persons, which included the then IAF chief SP Tyagi and his family members, and the public servants had abused their official positions by reducing service ceiling of the VVIPs helicopter from 6,000 m to 4,500 m.

The reduction in ceiling made AgustaWestland eligible for contract worth 556.262 million Euros, which was awarded to it by the Defence Ministry on February 08, 2010, for procurement of 12 VVIP helicopters.

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 alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs. 423 crore by it for securing the deal.

Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.

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