A Dubai court ordered the extradition of British national and alleged middleman Christian Michel to India in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP choppers deal case.
Officials, on Tuesday, said that the court pronounced the judgment after India had officially made a request for extradition to the Gulf nation based on the criminal investigations conducted in this case by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
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.
On 1 January, 2014, India scrapped the contract with Finmeccanica's British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force (IAF) over the alleged breach of contracts and charges of kickbacks of Rs 423 crore paid by it to secure the deal. The ED alleged that money was laundered through multiple foreign companies which were used as fronts to park alleged kickbacks.
The government cancelled the deal after Bruno Spagnolin, CEO of AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of the Italian parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested on charges of bribing middlemen to acquire the deal with IAF. Then defence minister AK Antony had ordered a probe into the matter. "Yes, corruption has taken place in the helicopter deal and bribes have been taken. The CBI is pursuing the case very vigorously," Antony had said in March 2013.
There have been several key players in the VVIP choppers deal case, the most prominent of whom are the three alleged middlemen between the companies abroad and the Indian government — Christian Michel, Guido Haschke, and Carlo Gerosa.
Christian Michel is a British consultant who was allegedly hired by AgustaWestland — the British arm of the Italian company Finmeccanica — to acquire the Rs 3,600 crore deal for the company by influencing officials of the IAF and the then UPA government. According to a Firstpost report, Michel was named as a middleman by Italian investigators. According to Italian court documents, Michel handled €18 million of the total kickback of €30 million.
The Firstpost report also reveals that Michel had actually been working on the deal since 2002 when the first global Request for Proposal (RFP) for choppers was issued (March 2002), even though there are reports to suggest that he got involved in the deal towards the end of 2006.
In February 2017, the UAE authorities arrested Michel. He faced prosecution there as several investigations revealed that he rerouted bribes to India through his Dubai-based firm Global Services. The bribes came from the money he had received from AgustaWestland to broker the deal.
Soon after his arrest, Michel revealed that the CBI had forced him to mention Congress president Sonia Gandhi's name in the course of the interrogation. He had accused Indian investigators of pressuring him to frame the Congress leaders in return for a clean chit in the multi-crore scam — a charge the CBI has refuted.
The Indian Express reported that Michel's advocate and sister who said that the “Modi government and its agencies were forcing him to sign a false confessional statement naming Gandhi in return for complete exoneration from any charge whatsoever in the AgustaWestland case.”
Guido Haschke is an Italian and US citizen who was residing in Switzerland. He was arrested in October 2012 by Switzerland police after he was raided by Italian officials. The CBI had named Haschke in its FIR in 2013. However, CBI sources had said in 2013 that they were not seeking Haschke's immediate extradition to India at the time. In March 2013, Italian officials had sought his extradition from Switzerland following the alleged VVIP chopper deal case.
According to reports, AgustaWestland's former chief executive Giuseppe Orsi hired US-born Guido Ralph Haschke, who was then a consultant for the Finmeccanica group, to lead dealings in India to secure the VVIP choppers contract.
Haschke's main involvement in the case was regarding a note allegedly written by him and addressed to Michel, which named the Gandhi family and several other Indian politicians. Michel had later denied the claim while questioning the authenticity of Haschke's handwritten note that named Indian leaders.
NDTV in 2016 had reported that Indian investigators had been allowed to question Haschke when he was extradited to Italy in 2013 but he refused to identify the "AP" mentioned in his note, whom prosecutors suspect was Congress President Sonia Gandhi's political aide Ahmed Patel.
The 70-year-old Carlo Gerosa was named as one of the three alleged middlemen by the CBI wanted in the case. According to reports, Gerosa's interrogation and statement have been very important for the ED's and CBI's investigation.
In October 2017, Italian authorities, on the basis of an Interpol notice sought by the ED, arrested Gerosa but soon released him. In June this year, Italy refused India's request to extradite Gerosa in connection to the case. CBI sources said that Italy has refused the agency's November 2017 request to extradite Gerosa, adding that the message had been delivered to the Ministry of External Affairs.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Sep 19, 2018 16:42 PM