The CBI has claimed that Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland chopper scam, attempted to influence and ‘virtually engage the entire UPA cabinet’ in order to unfold the VVIP chopper deal for Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, now called the Leonardo.
In a fax dispatch, allegedly sent by Michel to AgustaWestland’s then senior vice-president for international business, Giacomo Saponaro in January 2010, he claimed that he had to fight the odds knowing that the then Finance Ministry was sympathetic to the “Russian lobby”.
The CBI further claimed that he had to virtually engage the entire UPA cabinet to neutralise the lobbying, pertaining to the Indian Airforce’s order for 12 choppers for its VIP squadron, on behalf of the US for its Sikorsky S-92 helicopter and Russia for the Mi-172.
The fax, received by the CBI from Italy shows Michel was allegedly able to track the movement of files real-time and procure information from the finance and defence ministries, even before the then defence minister, A K Antony could.
He in his fax had reportedly assured the Agusta chieftain that he would manage to close the deal by organising a “very high-level intervention”, despite several hinderances coming in the way. He has confidently confirmed to his Agusta boss that the deal would be through by the end of the week, despite the pushback from the Americans and the Russians as well as the finance secretary’s reservations on pricing.
Surprisingly as conveyed in the fax by Christian Michel to his counterpart in AugustaWestland, the Cabinet Committee on Security led by then PM Manmohan Singh had cleared the proposal for 12 VVIP helicopters in AgustaWestland’s favour on January 18, 2010. The CBI, however, suspected that this fax was dispatched from Michel’s Mumbai office just days before this approval.
The fax revealed that Michel had a beforehand knowledge about the then Finance ministry and Defence Ministry’s tussle over the deal and had informed Agusta’s supremo, Saponaro, in advance about the future meetings and decisions of the two Ministries.
The Russian lobby, according to Michel, had a strong connection with the then finance secretary. The finance secretary’s office, Michel claimed, was sending negative messages, suggesting that the finance ministry did not support the deal. In what further showed Michel’s insight about the future meetings and decisions between the two departments, he had informed Saponaro in advance that the finance ministry would send their concerns over the deal to the defence minister on ‘Friday’, who would then meet the finance minister to “sort this out” and “end the dispute”.
CBI sources, however, confirmed that during his interrogation in the last 14 days, Michel had given vague replies over this fax dispatch, procured by the agency.
Christian Michel is accused of money laundering, bribery, and fraud in connection with the Rs 3,600-crore worth AgustaWestland scam. It is believed that not only did he pay kickbacks to politicians, officers and agents but also involved certain celebrity journalists to swing the deal.
The agency had recently also submitted that Michel had links with the ministries, people in politics, bureaucracy and many of whom are witnesses in the case. The Court has sent Michel to judicial custody at the end of 14-days police remand.