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Christian Michel sent to seven-day ED custody in AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case over money laundering charges

New Delhi: Christian Michel, an alleged middleman extradited from Dubai recently, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate and sent to seven days custody of the agency over money laundering charges in the alleged AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam after he was produced in a court which denied bail in the related CBI case.

Michel, lodged in Tihar jail in the CBI case, was produced before Special Judge Arvind Kumar following a production warrant issued on the plea of ED which took him into custody inside the courtroom.

The court, which had earlier reserved order on his bail plea in the CBI case, said, "Considering the overall facts and circumstances, serious nature of allegations, gravity of offence and the fact that investigation is at a crucial stage, I do not consider it to be a fit case for grant of bail."

 Christian Michel sent to seven-day ED custody in AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case over money laundering charges

File image of Christian Michel. PTI

The court had on 19 December reserved the order on Michel's bail plea in the Rs 36,000-crore scam and sent him to judicial custody till 28 December.

After arresting Michel in the alleged money laundering case, the ED sought his 15 day-custody from the court on Saturday.

Opposing defence counsel's submission that the accused had already been quizzed by the CBI, the ED said there was a gap in the money trail being investigated by it and the CBI.

"We are two different agencies. It's impossible to have a joint investigation in the ambit of the law. We need to stand on our own feet," the ED said.

The agency said that it needs to probe money laundering aspect of the chain of proceeds of crime and the properties brought with that money, all of which have to be identified and recovered.

"We are aware of an investigation of Euro 30 million. The CBI's investigation is of more than Euro 37 million. We have to cover that gap," the ED said.

It alleged that two of the properties have been bought out of the "proceeds of crime" and hence it is purely in the scope of money laundering.

"The money came and has been used through a hawala channel. It has not come through official channel. That has to be probed and he needs to be confronted in that regard. The co-accused persons have to be confronted with.

"Both channels — one channel through which money came and the other through which it was used — have to be unearthed. Money trail has to be identified. The nexus of Guido Haschke, Carlo Gerosa and Gautam Khaitan (the other accused) also have to be unearthed," the agency said.

It said that the agency was forced to seek "open-ended non-bailable warrant (NBW)".

Open-ended NBW does not carry a time limit for execution unlike non-bailable warrant.

The ED alleged that Michel has not joined the investigation in Italy and it cannot be said that the points the agency wants to probe here have already been investigated.

Michel was arrested in the UAE and extradited to India on 4 December. The next day, he was produced before the court, which allowed his five-day custodial interrogation by the CBI. It was extended by five more days, and later for another four days.

Michel's counsel Aljo K Joseph opposed the 15-day custody application by ED saying there was already prolonged detention by the CBI and his further custody by the ED will be "hampering his fundamental right".

"The ED did not try to question him while he was in the probe agency's (CBI) custody. His custody by one agency could have been used by the ED as well," Joseph said.

He further alleged that both the agencies have not done independent probe and are seeking Michel's confession.

"We are filing all the documents related to his financial transaction. Indian authorities are again asking for custody for his confession. All the documents have been collected by the Italian government. They have not done any investigation by themselves," the counsel said.

Michel had on Friday urged the court that he be lodged in a separate cell as other inmates were putting "uncomfortable questions" to him.

An Assistant Superintendent of Tihar Jail informed the court on Saturday that the accused is lodged in a ward meant for first time offenders "under safe and secure custody", considering that he was a foreigner.

The court also noted the submission of the jail official that jail authorities are providing adequate facilities to all the prisoners, including foreigners, as per rules.

However, the court directed the jail superintendent to ensure safety and security of the accused. The court also noted the submission made by the accused that he has not been "pressured by anyone and he has not been threatened by any prisoners and everything is okay."

The CBI opposed the bail plea saying he was paid huge bribe amount by AugustaWestland which was given to the officers of Indian Air Force, MOD, bureaucrats, politicians and a family in India for showing favour in VVIP helicopter deal.

It alleged that an amount of euro 42.27 million was paid by Westland Group companies to the firms of accused as kickbacks.

Michel is among the three alleged middlemen being probed in the case by the ED and the CBI. The others are Haschke and Gerosa.

The CBI has alleged there was an estimated loss of Euro 398.21 million — about Rs 2,666 crore — to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010 for the supply of VVIP choppers worth Euro 556.262 million.

The ED, in its chargesheet filed against Michel in June 2016, had alleged that he received Euro 30 million — about Rs 225 crore — from AgustaWestland.

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Updated Date: Dec 22, 2018 22:14:34 IST