The Central Bureau of Investigation filed a supplementary charge sheet on Saturday in the Rs 3,600 crore VVIP chopper scam against key middlemen Christian Michel James, Rajiv Saxena and 13 others. As per the officials privy to details, the latest charge-sheet mentions the alleged role of middlemen and entities used to transfer the kickbacks to politicians, bureaucrats, and Indian Air Force (IAF) officials in the scandal involved in the purchase of AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters by India.
This is the second charge sheet filed in the case, and it elaborates in detail about the alleged role played by Michel in receiving and routing the alleged kickbacks through a web of entities to alleged beneficiaries, which include bureaucrats and politicians. The agency has so far not charge-sheeted any politician in this scam. In its first charge sheet, filed in September 2017, the agency had established the money trail of 62 million euros (around Rs 415 crore) out of suspected 67 million euros (Rs 452 crore) total bribe paid to Indians through middlemen.
The CBI has charged a few Indian and foreign-based companies purportedly used by accused-turned-approver Rajiv Saxena and Christian Michel in “transferring” the alleged kickbacks in the latest charge sheet.
In March this year, the CBI had sought prosecution sanction against former defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, former Air vice-marshal Jasbir Singh Panesar and three other IAF officers – deputy chief test pilot SA Kunte, wing commander Thomas Mathew and former group captain N Santosh. However, it went ahead and filed its charge sheet without awaiting the prosecution sanction against the aforesaid individuals. As per officials, the agency will file a charge sheet against the individuals after it receives a prosecution sanction from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and Ministry of Defence.
ED contested approver status after it found accused Rajiv Saxena had withheld information
It is pertinent to mention here that charge-sheeting of Rajiv Saxena, one of the middlemen in the alleged scam, assumes significance after he was accorded the approver status. It was months later, in October 2019, that another agency, Enforcement Directorate, had approached the court seeking cancellation of his approver status claiming he had concealed facts from the agencies.
A dossier received from Mauritius, along with the forensic data analysis and scrutiny of WhatsApp chats has led the Enforcement Directorate to suspect the authenticity of disclosures made by Rajiv Saxena, one of the main accused in the Rs 3600 crore AgustaWestland scam. As per a report in the Economic Times, the investigating agency has now pointed out that Saxena has concealed and withheld information at the instance of co-accused, especially Ratul Puri.
The documents received from Mauritius contained one titled “Consent to act as Director” of M/s Interstellar Technologies Ltd, dated June 20, 2000, bearing Saxena’s signatures.
However, when ED had questioned about the same in February last year, Saxena had withheld information regarding the same and had lied to the investigation team that these signed documents were misused by his lawyer and co-accused Gautam Khaitan. The new information submitted to ED by the CBI revealed that the signatures belong to Saxena.
Saxena had allegedly operated a firm named Interstellar, which received a kickback worth 12.4 million euros which were then re-routed as “payment of bribes” to influential people, including politicians and bureaucrats in India to influence the VVIP chopper deal in favour of AgustaWestland. The middleman Christian Michel James allegedly routed bribe money to a company through Interstellar, according to ED investigation.
Rajiv Saxena and Christian Michel extradited to India
Rajiv Saxena, described by the ED as one of the “key money launderers” was picked up by UAE government security agencies in Dubai and later extradited to India on January 30, 2019.
Prior to the extradition of the two main accused Rajiv Saxena and Deepak Talwar, several startling revelations had come to light in the VVIP chopper scam soon after the case gained momentum post middleman Christian Micheal’s extradition to India. From the names of “Italian Lady”, to “Italian Lady’s son R“ to how Christian Michel was lobbying for the Eurofighter and against the Rafale deal and how he had unbridled access to the PMO under Congress regime, the CCS and even the investigative agencies.
Nine individuals already charge-sheeted in the AgustaWestland Case
Before the latest charge sheet filed by the CBI, nine individuals, four Indians and five foreigners were charged in the initial charge sheet filed by the CBI. The charge sheet included SP Tyagi and his cousins, alleged European middlemen Carlo Gerosa, Michel James and Guido Haschke, former AgustaWestland chief executive Bruno Spagnolini and former Finmeccanica chairman Giuseppe Orsi. AgustaWestland was a subsidiary of Italy’s Finmeccanica.