Politics

VVIP Chopper Deal: ED Chargesheet Focuses on Christian Michel

The second chargesheet details the role of Christian Michel in the VVIP chopper deal, his multiple visits to India and his transactions.

Credit: Reuters

Credit: Reuters

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has filed a fresh chargesheet, delving specifically into the role of the British national and middleman, Christian Michel James and few of his Indian associates, in connection with the money laundering probe into the Rs 3,600 crore VVIP chopper deal.

The over-1,300-page prosecution complaint (the ED’s equivalent of charge sheet) that was placed before a special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in New Delhi early this week, said that the agency’s investigation found that Michel 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 “guise of” of genuine transactions for performing multiple work contracts in the country.

The court is expected to soon take cognisance of the supplementary chargesheet, sources in the agency told PTI.

Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (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 was extensively interviewed by the Indian media in Dubai recently and both the agencies want him to join the probe.

Second charge sheet

This is the second chargesheet filed in the case by the ED and it goes into his detailed role in the deal, his multiple visits to India and his transactions. The first chargesheet was filed by the agency in November 2014.

It is understood that filing a chargesheet against Michel was necessary, as the ED had sought his extradition from the UK, and hence such a court complaint against an accused was necessary in order to execute the treaty between the two countries.

The agency had also brought on record, in the chargesheet, that the three middlemen “managed to” make inroads into the Indian Air Force (IAF) to influence the stand of the officials into reducing the service ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 metre to 4,500 metre in 2005. AgustaWestland became eligible to supply the dozen helicopters for VVIP flying duties after this change.

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.

The PMLA probe found that AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini was paying “kickbacks” to Michel and the two other middlemen in the guise of numerous “consultancy contracts”. Michel alone received €30 million in his Dubai company accounts and others under this arrangement.

The agency also detected that the media firm was nothing but a “shell company” to “launder the proceeds of crime.”

At least two other associates of Michel in Delhi and the media firm, whose assets were attached by the ED in 2015, have been named in the chargesheet along with the statements made by various people connected to him, including his driver Narayan Bahadur.

The probe also revealed that Michel had hired a firm for an analysis of market publication,s related to manufacturing industry active in the Indian defence arena, the economic and financial trends in the country and overall views on private sector participation.

The probe was in the news recently after a Milan-based court sentenced Italian defence and aerospace major Finmeccanica’s former chief Giuseppe Orsi and Spagnolini on corruption charges in the sale of these helicopters to India.

The Milan court order also mentioned the name of the former IAF chief, S. P. Tyagi.

After the court order, both the agencies started a fresh round of questioning the accused and collection of further evidences.

The ED had registered a PMLA case in this regard in 2014 and named 21 people, including Tyagi, in its FIR. It had also arrested Delhi-based businessman Gautam Khaitan in the case, who is out on bail now.

It had earlier submitted that Khaitan was on the board of Aeromatrix, a Chandigarh-based company, that was allegedly a front firm for the financial dealings in the chopper deal.

On January 1, 2014, India scrapped the contract with 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.

The ED and the CBI had issued Letters Rogatory (judicial requests) to multiple countries to gather more leads and evidences in this case.