With the 2019 Lok Sabha elections less than a month away, political parties are now trying to chart out the issues that they think would garner them votes. Congress seems to have decided that the same trope of the Rafale deal would magically pull them from the political abyss where they got 44 seats in 2014, to a position of political victory.
The Rafale issue has been simmering for months. While the Supreme Court has given a clean chit to the deal and several experts have explained the nuances of the inter-governmental defence deal signed by the Modi government, Rahul Gandhi has consistently raked the issue up in most of his speeches. He has muddled numbers, misrepresented facts and screamed ‘Chowkidaar chor hai’ from the rooftops, without so much as an iota of proof. This unhealthy obsession with a dead issue begs a larger question – what is the real motive behind raking this issue up over and over again? Is it just a misplaced sense of confidence that the issue, if kept alive will pay electoral dividends? Or is there something more than meets the eye?
That question can be answered when we look into the history of the MMRCA deal under the Congress government and the several strings that lead to it.
The UPA government floated a tender for the acquisition of Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) in August 2007. After the bidding, Eurofighter and Rafale were selected by the UPA government in the final round. Finally, Dassault Rafale was chosen and even after 7 years of negotiations, the deal was never finalised. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stirred a hornet’s nest by hinting that the MMRCA deal was delayed because there was backroom lobbying going on for the Eurofighter at the time.
It was hinted in the parliament that the MMRCA deal then was delayed because of the lobbying for Eurofighter and also, that Rahul Gandhi and the Congress is today opposing the Rafale deal because they have their hands in the proverbial Eurofighter cookie jar.
One wonders then- were these mere allegations mere political rhetoric, or is there some truth to the allegation that lobbying for the Eurofighter resulted in the delay of Rafale deal during the Congress regime and it is that lobbying because of which Rahul Gandhi is attacking the Rafale deal today?
Rumours had gained strength after an ABP journalist revealed that Rahul Gandhi had met Eurofighters representatives while he was in Germany. However, these were merely in the realm of speculation as no solid evidence had emerged to link Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and the lobbying for Eurofighter.
But now, documents accessed by OpIndia establish a direct link between lobbying for Eurofighter and Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi. The documents also establish that the Congress government may have delayed the Rafale deal because of Sweden’s ‘leverage’ over the Gandhis. These documents are secret notes faxed by Christian Michel to Guido Haschke.
Who is Christian Michel?
Christian Michel is accused of money laundering, bribery, and fraud in connection with the AgustaWestland scam. It is believed that he paid kickbacks to numerous ’eminent personalities’ including celebrity journalists to swing the deal. During his interrogation and court hearings, Michel has reportedly confirmed that the ‘AP’ in his communications refers to Congress’ Ahmed Patel and ‘fam’ means the family. It was revealed that he had mentioned a certain ‘Mrs. Gandhi’ during interrogation and that Michel had spoken about the ‘son of the Italian lady’ who could be the ‘next PM of the country’.
Christian Michel had also revealed that he had access to sensitive documents and the Prime Minister’s Office during the Congress era. While several journalists have tried their best to spin these startling revelations in the AgustaWestland case, it is evident that Christian Michel is inextricably linked to the Gandhi family in this case.
Christian Michel’s strategy paper on Eurofighter lobbying, ‘The Leading Family’, and other players
While it has already been revealed that Christian Michel was lobbying for Eurofighter in India, the lobbying’s direct link with the Gandhis is established by this correspondence.
In the fax sent by Christian Michel to Guido Haschke, Michel names ‘The Leading Family’ explicitly while talking about the strategy to lobby for Eurofighter in India.
This ‘strategy paper’ was faxed by Michel to Hashcke on 12th August 2010. As seen in the screenshot of the fax, Michel writes to Haschke:
“An in-country bureaucratical and political navigator should be found at once. This man should have worked in the MOD and know well on first name basis and not just the MOD, key bureaucrats and the minister, but also the PM, Finance Minister and Leading Family. There are only 3 candidates for such a job and only one of the 3 is available”.
In this excerpt, it is evident that Michel was suggesting to Hashcke that for Eurofighter to be selected from among the 6 bids, it is imperative that they find an Indian middle man who would be “on a first name basis” with not only people within the Ministry of Defence but also the Prime Minister (PM Manmohan Singh), Finance Minister (P Chidambaram) and ‘the Leading Family’ (Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi).
Michel goes on to say that in India, there are only 3 people for such a job and “only one of the 3 is available”. Presently, one doesn’t know who is the 1 person Michel is referring to in his fax to Haschke, however, it can safely be assumed that this person, who Michel had identified, was “available” to lobby for the Eurofighter with not only the PM, FM and MOD, but also the Gandhis.
Before this strategy paper was faxed, On 20th May 2010, Christian Michel had sent a dispatch from India to Guido R. Haschke, the other middleman in the AgustaWestland deal.
Christian Michel mentioned a ‘note on MMRCA’ and the contents of that ‘note’ make it amply clear that Michel was lobbying for Eurofighter and against the Rafale deal. In fact, the fax also mentioned one ” Mr P”. The fax read:
“I have sent you an article on Mr P. I think you will understand”.
Michel in this email says “Eurofighter is doing no work with the user at the moment to address the issue the IAF feel relevant. Eurofighter do not know what are the key components of the IAF’s thinking, Eurofighter are going through the motions of a sale without the strategic work”.
In another part of the dispatch, Michel writes, “The 3 bosses of maintenance must be lobbied i.e. Chief of Maintainance Command, Air Officer Maintainance and Chief of Engineering”.
In another portion of the dispatch, Christian Michel tells Guido Haschke that UK and Italy are not ‘utilising’ their relations with India and that ‘GIO and IAF’ are confused by the decision of Eurofighter to get the most “inexperienced” member of the consortium in India to sell the jet to India.
The reference to Congress and Bofors scandal
The ‘strategy paper’ that was faxed by Christian Michel to Guido Haschke also revealed that Sweden was back in the race because of the leverage it had over the Congress party.
It must be remembered that 6 bids were received by India when the Congress government had floated the MMRCA tender. The bids were by:
1. American F/A-18 ‘Super Hornet’ (Boeing)
2. F-16 ‘Falcon’ (Lockheed Martin)
3. French Rafale (Dassault)
4. Russian MiG-35 (United Aircraft Corporation)
5. Swedish Gripen (SAAB)
6. Eurofighter Typhoon (Airbus consortium)
Christian Michel’s secret note says:
“Even Sweden has leverage over GOI. They were let back in the race in return for Sweden not becoming aggressive over the continuously retrieving of their Bofors gun, which is a Congress scandal in its own right”.
The Rs 1,437 crore deal between India and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of 400 155 mm howitzer guns for the Indian Army was entered into on March 24, 1986, when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister.
Swedish Radio on April 16, 1987, had claimed that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel. The scandal was then doggedly pursued by journalist Chitra Subramanian.
While it has already been established that Michel was directly lobbying in India to ensure that Eurofighter wins the bid, it is now interesting to note that Michel had mentioned that Sweden had also been “let back in the race” by the Congress government because of the “leverage” Sweden held against Congress owing to the Bofors scam.
The MMRCA tender was floated by the Congress government in 2007. In 2011, it was the Indian Airforce that had selected Eurofighter and Rafale as the top two contenders. We also know that Michel was lobbying with officers of the IAF to ensure that Eurofighter was selected. But, in 2012, IAF selected the Rafale. However, even after 2012, the MMRCA deal could not go through as there were inordinate delays in the Congress government.
The secret note by Michel was written in 2010, when he says that Sweden was pulled back into the race by the Congress government because of the ‘leverage’ it held against Congress (and presumably, the Gandhi family).
It thus becomes imperative to ask if the Rafale deal was delayed and never finalised by the Congress government not only because Eurofighter was lobbying with the Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and the Gandhi family (according to the Michel note) but also because Sweden had “leverage” on the Gandhi family.
‘How can GOI agree to buy the most expensive?’
Christian Michel in his notes had said that the problem with the Eurofighter was Price, Life cycle costs and political support.
We have already dealt with the “political” support aspects as Michel had spoken about Sweden’s sway over Congress due to the Bofors scandal and that Eurofighter would need to find someone who is on a first name basis with the Gandhi, PM Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram. In fact, in his notes, as we saw, he had said that one such person was ‘available’.
In this section, Michel says that Eurofighter is ‘the most expensive’ and hence, GOI would not agree to buy the jets. The solution he proposes to this end is not to make the pricing cheaper, but to tweak the proposal in such a way that the pricing structure is a complex and composite cost not easily verifiable.
Christian Michel links with Enzo Casolini and Casolini’s shocking statement
In this secret correspondence sent by Christian Michel to Guido Haschke in 2010, Michel says that he has “kept a steady but distant relationship with Enzo”. Enzo Casolini was the then CEO of Eurofighter.
In 2010 itself, speaking at a media briefing at the ILA Berlin Air Show 2010, Casolini said, ”The situation is very clear. In order to sell fighter aircraft, apart from the capability [of the aircraft], one of the most important things is the political support and relationship with the [customer] nation…These are strategic issues.”
A report from 2010 says:
Political ties will play a very big role in determining the outcome of the $11 billion Indian Air Force medium range multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender, according to Enzo Casolini, chief executive officer of Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH. The Eurofighter is one of the contestants for the global tender which has five other defence and aerospace companies in the fray.
In this period, Enzo Casolini was not only in touch with Michel but had also asserted that it is political pressure that will play a determining role in the outcome of the MMRCA bid.
Further, in 2013, while IAF has already selected Dassault Rafale and deep into negotiation with Dassault, Enzo had asserted that Eurofighter is still in the race to win the MMRCA bid. He said:
“We are on standby, in case they come back to us.”
The essential question here is how Casolini was confident of being in the race a whole year after the negotiations had started between Dassault Rafale and the Congress government? Also, in 2010 itself, when Casolini spoke about how “political pressure” plays a determining role in such deals, was he referring to the Gandhi family?
Hint that Enzo Casolini had paid heed to Christian Michel’s ‘strategy document’?
In the strategy document that Christian Michel had sent to Haschke, Michel had put special emphasis on the off-set and transfer of technology clause.
Interestingly, Enzo Casolini had made exactly the same point in 2013, while expressing confidence that Eurofighter is still in the race, despite the Congress government was deep into negotiations with Dassault for Rafale.
Casolini, in 2013 had said:
“I think our technology transfer offer to India was fantastic. And India had a very demanding target.”
It thus begs the questions of whether Enzo Casolini did acknowledge and act upon the lobbying strategy presented by Michel.
Questions Rahul Gandhi must answer
1. Christian Michel has categorically mentioned that the middleman must know the ‘First Family’ on a first name basis. He also had one such person who was ‘available’ to lobby for Eurofighter. Who was this person who was close enough to Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram to be on a ‘first name basis’ with them and was lobbying for Eurofighter, against Rafale?
2. Christian Michel has reportedly already identified ‘AP’ in the AgustaWestland scam as Ahmed Patel. In the Eurofighter lobbying case, who is “Mr P” that Christian Michel referred to in his email to Guido Haschke?
3. Michel says ‘GOI and IAF’ are confused by the decision to have an inexperienced member of the consortium lobby for Eurofighter. Who was this inexperienced member and is this proof that lobbying was indeed taking place?
4. Haschke’s fax, in 2010, says that Sweden was pulled back into the race because Sweden held ‘leverage’ over Congress because of the Bofors scam. What was this ‘leverage’? Was Sweden pulled back into the race because of it?
5. Other than the lobbying for Eurofighter, was Sweden’s ‘leverage’ a reason for the delay in negotiations?
6. The Congress government took 7 years to negotiate with Dassault and yet, the deal was never signed. Defence Minister AK Antony recently said that the MMRCA deal was delayed during the Congress regime “due to national security concerns”. Was the “national security concern” the Eurofighter lobbying or Sweden’s “leverage” on the Gandhis?
7. Christian Michel admits that GOI would never go for Eurofighter because ‘it is the most expensive’. The solution he proposes to this end is not to make the pricing cheaper, but to tweak the proposal in such a way that the pricing structure is a complex and composite cost not easily verifiable. if Eurofighter was the most expensive, how was it included in the top 2 choices? If the prices were competitive, did Eurofighter take Michel’s strategy and tweak the pricing structure in a manner that the composite cost was not verifiable?
8. Was the Congress government aware of this tweaking, if at all?
9. Casolini in 2010 said that “political pressure” would swing the MMRCA deal. Were the Gandhis involved in this “political pressure” in favour of Eurofighter?
10. Why was Enzo Casolini so confident in 2013, after GOI had selected Rafale as the winner, that Eurofighter was still in the running?
11. Was the Rafale deal delayed deliberately so Eurofighter could sneak in?
12. Was this done also to keep the Swedish “leverage” under wraps?
13. Rahul Gandhi’s links with dubious arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari has already been established. Sanjay Bhandari was also a middleman for Airbus, which is a part of the consortium that manufactures Eurofighter. Were Sanjay Bhandari and Christian Michel in touch?
14. Sanjay Bhandari tried to become the offset partner with Dassault. Dassault rejected the agreement. Did his hand not being in the Dassault cookie jar another reason for the delay?
15. Was the Rafale deal delayed so Sanjay Bhandari, as the Airbus middleman, gets his hands in the cookie jar with Eurofighter?
16. Is Rahul Gandhi attacking the Rafale deal and is making attempts to sabotage the deal today because of Eurofighter lobbying and Sweden’s “Bofors leverage”?
While Rahul Gandhi has gone hammer and tongs against the Rafale deal, his own association and the association of the Congress government with dubious arms dealers, middlemen and lobbyists have come to the fore. With such mounting evidence that the Rafale theatric might not be as simple as it looks, Rahul Gandhi cannot afford to continue to lie without answering for the questions being raised against him. With the Bofors scam coming back in the Rafale conversation, it seems to be the right time for Rahul Gandhi to speak up and answer questions.
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017