The Enforcement Directorate filed its 4th supplementary charge-sheet on the Agusta Westland scam on Thursday at a Delhi Special Court. There are several explosive revelations made in the charge-sheet with regards to corruption in the media and the ruling political disposition. As we have reported earlier, the case involves several high profile individuals within the Congress party and a certain ‘RG’ who received Rs. 50 crore between 2014-16 in the deal.
The charge-sheet, accessed in its entirety by Opindia.com, states clearly, “The conclusion that kickback was paid to Air Force Officials, bureaucrats and politicians is based on documents seized by Swiss police as well as by deposition of Christian Michel James and is also corroborated with deposition of Rajiv Saxena that kickback of Agusta Westland was paid through two chains, one belonging to Christian Michel James and another belonging to Guido Haschke to the influential people in bureaucracy, defense and ruling political party elite.”
The charge-sheet further asserts that if the statements of Guido Haschke made before an Italian Court are read in conjunction with those of Christian Michel, then “the whole modus operandi of obtaining VVIP chopper contract using illegal influence of the officers of Air Force, Bureaucrats and Political Leaders of the then ruling party is proved beyond doubt.”
The ED goes on to state, “The content of the dispatches has also proved that Christian Michel James had successfully organized activities which had influenced, the decision of top political leaders of the ruling party, minister, defence officers and bureaucrats in favour of AgustaWestland. The influence of these leaders/officials had greatly helped AgustaWestland to bag the contract.”
The dispatches mentioned above, which are pieces of communication between Christian Michel and his associates involved in the deal, reveal quite a few very startling facts. In a dispatch dated the 28th of August, 2009, from Michel to one Orsi, presumably Giuseppe Orsi, the then CEO of AgustaWestland, the middleman says that “we have pressurized the PM through his party elite.” He also says that “the Defense Minister is 100 per cent behind us.”
There is another dispatch which reveals extremely explosive details. In it, Michel talks about meeting someone “with regards to the Italian Lady’s son.” The ‘gentleman’ apparently “confirmed” that the “son” will become the next Prime Minister and that his “power in the party is growing day by day”.
Not merely that, in the dispatch, Michel also remarks that the son ‘will be asked to raise the matter with his mother’ as the mother apparently didn’t have all the facts.
A dispatch dated the 29th of July says that apart from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, none of five cabinet ministries Michel had sent procurement papers to had any problems with it. According to him, Mukherjee was sending him “silly questions” like why a cheaper option wasn’t available. A ‘mutual friend’ was then sent to meet the Finance Minister and Mukherjee apparently said that he felt left out of the decision-making process and that he was being harassed into signing.
Michel says further, “The party leader will speak to him and we expect, to calm him down.”
According to the Enforcement Directorate, “The correctness of the contents of the dispatches were admitted both by Christian Michel James and J.B. Subramanian, however, Christian Michel James had displayed selective loss of memory with reference to some of the dispatches even when he acknowledged knowing Mrs Gandhi since 1986/87 and explained identity of the party elite who had used to put pressure on PM.” This ‘selective loss of memory, according to the ED, can be construed as efforts to “conceal true material facts”.
The chargesheet also reveals that Michel made deliberate attempts to influence the media and the middleman believes that he succeeded in his attempts, even if partly. The names of two journalists come to the fore: Manu Pubby and Shekhar Gupta. In his statement to the ED, Michel describes Pubby as the ‘most aggressive journalist’. Guy Douglas, a full-time press adviser who Michel had engaged, was tasked with the responsibility of meeting Pubby and “see if he was willing to listen to our side of the story.” Apparently, Michel believes “Guy had some success as Manu Pubby became more balanced.”
Michel’s statement also says that “as per Casana sheet, a payment of Euro 205860.40 was made to Ashwin Santhanam, son of Raju Santhanam in addition to booking an air ticket for him and his family for a total amount of Rs 26.50 lakh”.
Michel’s statement to the ED reveals that Guy Douglas was told to “focus on at least calming down the second article in the Indian Express.” “The two main people he had to reach was Manu Pubby and Shekhar Gupta,” he added. The ED concludes that the fact that Michel attempted to sway public opinion by influencing the media is “further corroborated by the act of influence on Manu Pubby and Shekhar Gupta to tone down his article in Indian Express.” Douglas was apparently in touch with several other journalists as well.
It might mean that the AgustaWestland scam is throwing up a situation like that of the Bofors where journalist Chitra Subramaniam was reporting the story and allegedly, after a point of time, it was the then editor N Ram of The Hindu who was trying to suppress the story. It is pertinent to mention here that the charges have been summarily denied by the journalists involved.
The charge-sheet also documents the manner in which air force officials, bureaucrats and politicians influenced the deal. To assist AgustaWestland, air force officials tweaked Operational requirements, increased cabin height, allowed crafts with “at least two engines” and lowered the operational height. The bureaucrats were used to consistently influence the Defense Procurement Procedure. The ‘political elite’ was “consistently helping AgustaWestland by intervention through PMO and Defense Minister and “Lobbying was done to put pressure on Finance Minister and his senior advisers”.
The chargesheet further asserts that as per the budget sheet accessed by the agency, Euro 30 million was paid to defence officials, bureaucrats and important political leaders of the ruling party. It asserts that a part of kickback was also paid to people in the media. In totality, at least Euro 70 million was received by two chains of middlemen, represented by Michel and Guido Haschke. It states, “it is an undisputed fact that kickback of at least Euro 70 million was actually paid to the parties who were in the position to help directly or indirectly in awarding the contract of VIP Helicopters to AgustaWestland”. Most significantly, however, it reveals that as per Christian Michel, ‘AP’ in the retrieved documents is an abbreviation for Ahmed Patel and ‘Fam’ means Family.
Thus, the chargesheet reveals that there was a nexus of air force officials, bureaucrats and top-brass Congress politicians who conspired to ensure that the contract was awarded to AgustaWestland. To achieve its ends, the company spent a huge amount of financial resources on people from these areas. Channels were also used to create pressure on the Finance Minister who didn’t appear too keen on the deal, so much that he felt he was being harassed into signing.
Important people in the media also received their share of the pie as the company wanted to control public opinion as well. It appears that they did achieve some success in that as well. Although the chargesheet mentions the name of only two journalists, it says that the press adviser Michel hired was in touch with several others. Thus, it appears to be an instance where the media colluded with a private entity in its attempts to secure a lucrative contract while elements in the state machinery, simultaneously, conspired to achieve the same ends as well. Thus, members of an institution, whose objective it is to act as ‘watchdog’ of the powers that be, chose to serve their own interests instead of the public. Thus, as Rahul Gandhi would say, “Chowkidar Chor Hai”.
The investigation into the AgustaWestland scam has seen great developments ever since Christian Michel was extradited to India where he was arrested upon arrival. As can be seen in the chargesheet, he has revealed many explosive details about the entire series of events and it appears extremely likely that more is soon to follow.