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AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal: Middleman Christian James Michel extradited to India

Alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal Christian Michel  

British national Christian James Michel, wanted in the alleged ₹3,700-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal bribery case, was extradited to India from the United Arab Emirates on December 4.

Mr. Michel was brought to New Delhi on board an Aviation Research Centre plane of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) at around 10.45 p.m. and escorted to the Central Bureau of Investigation headquarters by a team of Delhi Police officials. He is likely to be produced before a Delhi court on December 5.

Under the guidance of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the entire operation was coordinated by CBI Director In-charge M. Nageswara Rao. A team led by the agency’s Joint Director A. Sai Manohar visited Dubai for the purpose, said the CBI in a statement.

Mr. Michel’s role in the purchase of 12 helicopters surfaced in 2012 as a middleman for swinging the deal in favour of AgustaWestland and making illegal payments to Indian public servants. Initially, the investigation conducted by Italian authorities indicted him for offences of international bribery, the agency said.

Mr. Michel was arrested by the Dubai Police in February 2017 on the basis of an Interpol Red Notice issued against him.

The CBI filed a charge sheet against the accused in September 2017. Among those arraigned were retired Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, his cousins, former Air Marshal J.S. Gujral, two other alleged middlemen Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke, the then AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini, Finmeccanica chairman Giuseppe Orsi and others. The agency alleged a loss of about ₹2,666 crore to the exchequer due to the scam.

 

The Enforcement Directorate also charged Mr. Michel and several others under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

The CBI’s extradition request was forwarded to the UAE authorities on March 19, 2017, through diplomatic channels. Extradition proceedings were held before the court there and on November 19, the Court of Cassation upheld the lower court’s decision for the possibility of extraditing him. He was kept in detention and then handed over to Indian authorities on December 4.

The agency alleges that Mr. Michel entered into criminal conspiracy with co-accused persons and got the service ceiling of VVIP helicopters reduced from 6,000 to 4,500 metres to ensure that the company could bid for the deal. The contract for €556.262 million was awarded to AgustaWestland International Limited (U.K.) on February 2, 2010.

Mr. Michel was “imposed as a controller on the other two middlemen”. Renzo Lunardi, the then Commercial Manager of AgustaWestland, proposed his appointment and it was cleared by Mr. Orsi, as alleged.

In July 2006, at a meeting in Italy’s Cascina Costa, Mr. Lunardi — in the presence of Mr. Orsi — proposed that the accused would join the other two middlemen in carrying out the scouting and monitoring work for the deal. They allegedly decided 7% of the contract amount for covering expenses and fees for both.

Mr. Michel entered into 12 contracts through his two firms — Global Trade & Commerce Limited (U.K.) and Global Services FZE (Dubai) — with Finmeccanica, its subsidiary AgustaWestland, Westland Helicopters U.K. and others, allegedly to legitimise the illicit commission on the procurement.

An amount of €42.27 million (about ₹295 crore) was paid by the Finmeccanica group to his firms as kickbacks without undertaking any work, the CBI alleges.

 

Mr. Michel worked with Westland Helicopters Limited (U.K.) since 1980s. He was a frequent visitor to India and had undertaken as many as 300 trips between 1997 and 2013. He flew back to Dubai the last time days before the CBI registered an FIR to probe the alleged scam.

The CBI alleges that he operated as a middleman for defence procurement through a wide network of sources cultivated in the Air Force and the Defence Ministry at different levels, including retired officials. He tracked movements of procurement related files and sent periodical reports for AgustaWestland, through contacts in Italy and Switzerland.

Mr. Michel will be examined and confronted with documents received from Swiss authorities, indicating that bribes were allegedly paid by him to Indian officials for securing the deal.

The agency said his father Wolfgang Max Richard Michel was also a consultant of AgustaWestland (U.K.) for India during 1980s, besides other countries.

“Wolfgang Michel promoted three companies: Entera Corporation, UCM International Trading Limited and Ferro-Imports Limited. Between 1987 and 1996, Entera Corporation reportedly earned more than £2 million from India. Mr. Michel’s mother Valerie Fooks runs a trust in the name of Queda Educational Foundation, which is reportedly providing financial assistance to beneficiary students from India to advance their education in foreign countries,” the CBI said.


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