In a major diplomatic win for India, Christian Michel, allegedly a middleman between Sonia Gandhi led UPA II government and AgustaWestland, the British arm of Italian firm Finmeccanica, has been extradited to India from UAE where he was arrested last year in 2017.
This is yet another boost to the consistent efforts of the present government towards speedy trials in suspected corruption cases. Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken over, investigation in many alleged scams like National Herald, Aircel-Maxis, AgustaWestland among many others has been expedited. Incidentally, most of these scams reportedly happened during UPA I and UPA II.
We had explained some of these cases earlier and continuing the series, we explain the AgustaWestland case in this article.
What is the AgustaWestland Case?
- This is an alleged scam in which many top leaders of the Congress Party (hinted through the usage of short codes as explained in the article later) and IAF senior officials are allegedly involved.
- They are allegedly believed to have taken bribes from AgustaWestland, a company which manufactures helicopters, for helping it to win the contract of supplying 12 VVIP helicopters to India worth Rs 3,546 crore.
- It is also suspected that the technical specifications for the helicopters were relaxed to help AgustaWestland qualify the acquisition process.
- It has also been reported that “a court in Italy has taken note of the conversations between the three alleged middlemen in the deal — Carlos Gerosa, Christian Michel and Haschke — who mention ‘Mrs Gandhi’ as being the ‘driving force behind the VIP’ and her close aides Ahmed Patel and Pranab Mukherjee — the latter is referred to as being the ‘British High Commissioner’.”
Timeliner - AgustaWestland Case
- The procurement of 8 helicopters to ferry VVIP was approved.
- The features required in the helicopter were reportedly changed. The operational altitude was reduced to 4,500 meters from 6,000 meters (as proposed earlier) and cabin height was reduced to 1.8 meters. This was possibly done to make AgustaWestland compete and qualify in the acquisition process.
- Sonia Gandhi led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government reportedly increased the number of helicopters from 8 to 12.
- Giuseppe Orsi, a top executive of AgustaWestland, was arrested by the Italian police, for the alleged payoffs.
- The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) began an inquiry into the alleged kickbacks. In its preliminary inquiry, CBI named former IAF chief, P. Tyagi and others for taking the alleged kickbacks in the AgustaWestland deal.
- A media house in 2013 reported, “the contracts show that millions of euros were paid to the alleged middlemen – Christian Michel and Guido Haschke for the deal, through banks in Dubai, Italy, and Italian investigators referred to these contracts among others, to allege that kickbacks worth of at least 10% of the Rs 3,546 crore deal were paid.”
- As per the reports, the Milan court of Appeals in its judgement said that the contract involved payment of bribes to Indian officials and sentenced AgustaWestland executives – Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini to jail.
- Further, Italian prosecutors had produced a handwritten document that they alleged was a ‘budget’ drawn up by the two middlemen — Haschke and Christian Michel — which purportedly lists initials of Indian politicians and designations of bureaucrats and IAF officers who allegedly had to be ‘handled’ to fix the Rs 3,546 crore deal, as reported by the Indian Express.
- It has also been reported that the alleged ‘budget sheet’ detailed how the kickbacks of 51 million euros would be divided and under the heading ‘POL’ — which Haschke had claimed that this referred to Indian politicians — there is a reference to ‘AP’ against which ‘3 million euro’ has been listed. Another amount of 15-16 million euros was listed against ‘FAM’ which is said to be “Family”. Haschke had claimed that the note was dictated to him by the British Consultant Michel during one of their meetings in 2008.
- Prosecutors in an Italian court asked the key middleman in the IAF’s VVIP chopper deal whether the initials ‘AP’ in an alleged ‘budget sheet’ for bribes to politicians referred to Ahmed Patel, the political secretary of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
- CBI arrested Former Air Chief, S.P. Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi and a Delhi-based lawyer Gautam Khaitan for their alleged involvement in the deal.
- On the basis of a non-bailable arrest warrant by a Delhi court, CBI sought a Red Corner Notice from the Interpol which led to the arrest of Christian Michel in Dubai in February 2017.
- Christian Michel has been extradited to India from Dubai in an operation code-named as ‘Unicorn’ where he will be produced in the court and questioned by the investigative agencies about the alleged irregularities in the AgustaWestland deal.
- Arrest and extradition of Christian Michel may create troubles for some of the top leaders of the grand old party of India, especially ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.