'Michel engaged as middleman due to expertise in India'

'Michel engaged as middleman due to expertise in India'

Agusta Westland scam accused middleman Michel Christian at CBI headquarters in New Delhi, on early Wednesday. (PTI Photo)

The CBI has claimed that Christian Michel, a suspected middleman, was roped in by AgustaWestland and was imposed over two other brokers in India to swing the VVIP chopper deal.

The agency claimed that Michel was roped in because of his "knowledge of Indian military operational mechanism."

AgustaWestland had already roped in two suspected middlemen— Ralph Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, both of whom are named in the chargesheets by CBI and Enforcement Directorate— but Michel was "imposed" on them as the duo had "no specific knowledge in the specific sector of helicopters".

He has "proven expertise and experience in India", the CBI claimed.

Investigators claimed that Michel was a frequent visitor to India and was operating as a "middleman" for defence procurement through a wide network of sources cultivated in the air force and ministry of defence at different levels including retired and serving air force officials.

The CBI officials claimed that Michel visited India at least two dozen times during the deal and stayed in hotels in Delhi and Bengaluru.

Michel was roped in as early as 2006 after a meeting he had with AgustaWestland CEO Guiseppe Orsi and its then Commercial Manager Renzo Lunardi at Italy's Cascina Costa. 

His reported involvement came to light during 2012 and initially, Italian authorities had indicted him for offences of international corruption.

It was Lunardi who had proposed his appointment and said that Michel will join Haschke and Gerosa in "carrying out scouting and monitoring activities" with regard to the acquisition of choppers in India, "keeping in view of his (Michel's) knowledge of Indian military operational mechanism".

"During the meeting (2006) they had negotiated a comprehensive fees equal to 7% of the supply contract amount to cover the expenses and fees of both of them," the CBI claimed.

Michel is also claimed to have entered into as many as 12 contracts through two of his front firms M/s Global Trade & Commerce Ltd, London and M/s Global Services FZE, Dubai, with Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland and Westland Helicopters UK to legitimise the "illicit commission".

"An amount of Euro 42.27million (approximately Rs 295 crore) was paid by the Finmeccanica Group (parent company of AgustaWestland) to the firms of Michel as kickbacks/bribe without undertaking any work against the receipt of such amount," the CBI said.

The CBI also believes that he entered into a criminal conspiracy with co-accused and public servants abused their official positions by reduction of service ceiling of the VVIPs helicopter from 6,000 metre to 4,500 metre to enable AgustaWestland grab the order.

Michel, who was extradited to India on Tuesday night, now faces examination on his "involvement" in the case and will be confronted with documents recovered during raids by Swiss authorities and received by the CBI "indicating the bribes paid" by Michel to the Indian authorities.

Investigators believe that Michel's questioning could spill more details about the deal and especially whether bribes were paid to UPA leaders.

Michel will also face questions about a diary reportedly maintained by him where he has mentioned that the then prime minister Manmohan Singh and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel were Sonia Gandhi's key advisers.

There was also a mention about 15 to 16 million euros for a "family" and another three million for initials "AP".

However, these entries were not explained.

He has claimed that he was pressurised by the Indian authorities to name Sonia in the case.

Michel had in 2016 claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met his counterpart Matteo Renzi on the sidelines of a UN conference in New York and offered to release two Italian marines facing trial in India on murder charges if the latter could provide information about the chopper deal that could embarrass or implicate Sonia Gandhi.

Both governments had then denied any such meeting or conversation.

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