Eugenio Fusco, the Public Prosecutor conducting the corruption-and-fraud trial in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal case, specifically asked alleged middleman Ralph Guido Haschke if the initials ‘AP’ in one of the documents he presented to the court in Italy on Thursday referred to Ahmed Patel, senior Congressman and Sonia Gandhi confidant. Mr. Haschke replied he did not know.
Two documents were shown to the court. The one produced on Thursday was distinct from the one produced during the December 6 hearing, which gave figures in millions of euros as presumed payments made to politicians, bureaucrats and Air Force officers with acronyms such as ‘pol’, ‘bur’ and ‘af’, presumably denoting the recipients. The initials ‘AP’ figured in the second document produced in court on Thursday.
Mr. Haschke’s strategy now appears to be to push the blame on to the absent third middleman, 51-year-old British national Christian Michel. In substance, Mr. Haschke has suggested that he was a mere note-taker. The person who controlled the operation and dictated what was on the documents was Mr. Michel. The Briton is untraceable, and is believed to be in Dubai. In the past he has been linked to arms sales, including those of Dassault to India. Sources close to the trial told The Hindu on Friday it was difficult to imagine the extradition of Mr. Michel.
Mr. Michel reportedly told Mr. Haschke that persons involved in the contract were extremely close to Sonia Gandhi. He reportedly named Ahmed Patel as a key figure.
On December 6 Mr. Haschke told the court the document had been written in early 2008 in the London offices of Mr. Michel. “With this sheet of paper, Michel explained what the budget would be for this operation. In other words what financial provision would have to be made,” he said. “After that meeting our relations began to deteriorate.”
On Thursday, however, Mr. Haschke’s responses to several questions put by the Public Prosecutor were: “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.”
Intercepted telephone conversations between Mr. Haschke and his partner Carlo Gerosa, presented to the court on December 6, indicate that the commissions travelled through a company based in Mauritius. Conversations recorded by the Italian carabinieri in 2012 indicate a conspiracy to corrupt.
“They can say that the technical engineering we provided was very expensive but they can never say it was corruption,” Mr. Haschke tells Mr. Gerosa in one of the wiretaps produced in court. “By the time they get around to sending letters rogatory to Mauritius they will come to know that it’s all over in Mauritius. That operation was wound up 10 years ago.”
Mr. Haschke confirmed he had met Mr. Michel several times at Villa Malpensa hotel where the British national was a frequent guest.
Indian Ministry of Defence officials who cannot be named told The Hindu they had pushed for the scrapping of the contract for 12 AgustaWestland helicopters.
“We do not wish to be cheated and it is clear that there has been cheating,” one informed source said.
However, it is not for the Ministry of Defence to fix criminality. It can only go so far as to cancel the deal. Fixing criminality is the job of the Central Bureau of Investigation. And, as in the Bofors case, the CBI is taking its time.
Some sources close to the trial in Italy again expressed surprise and frustration over the fact that the CBI has yet to move.
One source said: “Like in the Bofors case, the CBI has been asked to keep off and not press charges.”
Keywords: AgustaWestland helicopter deal