Offering himself up for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the accused middleman in the VVIP helicopter deal, James Christian Michel, on Tuesday said he was willing to answer all questions from Indian investigators in order “to clear” his name, but insisted he had never met Congress president Sonia Gandhi or a “single Gandhi” in his life.
Speaking to The Hindu from Dubai, where he has been based for several years, Mr. Michel said, “I think this is the only way to settle this, a direct questioning. I wish the CBI or ED would come here. Because I can be helpful with documentation.” He claimed that he had sent a written offer in the case to Prime Minister Narendra Modi but hadn’t received a reply.
Mr. Michel’s comments come days after an Italian court reversed the acquittal of executives of the company Finmeccanica, convicting them for “over-invoicing” the sale of a dozen helicopters for Indian VVIPs in 2010, in order to bribe officials.
The CBI and the ED have accused Mr. Michel of working at the behest of accused U.K.-based firm AgustaWestland and its parent Italian major Finmeccanica to route funds to India for bribing officials. He had allegedly received €30 million for the job. A questionnaire sent by The Hindu to the Ministry of External Affairs on efforts by the government to pursue the case and question Mr. Michel received no reply.
The full interview with James Christian Michel >can be read here .
Mr. Michel rejected the evidence submitted in the Italian courts, including a typewritten note that showed him instructing a Finmeccanica executive to ask the “British Ambassador” to “target” advisers of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, including Manmohan Singh and Ahmed Patel, ostensibly to push the deal. The evidence also comprised a handwritten note indicating payment of Rs. 360 crore in alleged bribes.
“It’s not even my handwriting, and there were affidavits proving I wasn’t even present at the meetings. This is not evidence that will stand up in courts,” he claimed.
Asked repeatedly about alleged links with the Gandhis, he said it was his father, defence middleman Wolfgang Michel who had links in India, not him, and claimed he had never met Ms. Sonia Gandhi or any member of the family.
“My one saving grace is that I have never ever met one single Gandhi, ever in my life,” he said. “Yes, I know it sounds impossible, but never once, not at a hotel or a party. It is my greatest fortune that I have never met [a Gandhi]…Not a phone call, a letter, a message, a mention of me in a memo. Nothing.”
He stood by his sensational submission made to an international court that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attempted to cut a deal on the Italian marines issue with his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi at a brush-by meeting at the U.N. in September 2015.
According to him, Mr. Modi had offered a deal to free the two Italian marines on trial for killing Indian fishermen in exchange for information against the Gandhi family.
“Not only did [the meeting] take place, it went on so long, they had to reschedule other meetings. The mistake was made during the rescheduling as diplomats explained that because the meeting with the Italian PM had gone on so long, they had to change the timings,” Mr. Michel claimed.
He also alleged that three separate sources told him about the meeting at the U.N., either on September 24 or 25 last year. “Of course the most important issue came up, that of the Italian marines case, and help was offered by the Indian PM to settle that case, if some evidence was found implicating the Gandhis in the VVIP deal,” he alleged.
Following are the relevant documents pertaining to VVIP deal revelations made by Mr. Michel
EXCLUSIVE: The copy of the letter sent by Mr. Michel to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. > Read more
"I was surprised that within one month, a fast track non-bailable arrest warrant was raised against me"
"The submission claimed that I had received 30 million Euros consultancy for AW 101 helicopters. This is an incorrect statement."
"All my agreements were unilaterally given to the GoI freely and under no legal obligation by AW in MArch 2013"
"There is no commission agreement with me for the VVIP and I have no relationship with Mauritius what so ever."
"From the day that Mr. Orsi was removed fas CEO of Finmeccanica I have been under attack from Finmeccanica due to my closeness to Mr. Orsi and my refusal to be involved with the Finmeccanica gang."
"I am prepared to be interviewed by the CBI or the ED outside India."
A copy of the Milan Court of Appeals' order against Finmeccanica's former chief Giuseppe Orsi and former CEO of Finmeccanica's helicopter subsidiary AgustaWestland, Bruno Spagnolini.
( With inputs from Suhasini Haidar )