COURT SENDS CHRIS­TIAN MICHEL TO 5-DAY CBI CUS­TODY

CBI, ED to ques­tion him on the money trail in the Rs 3,600 cr VVIP chop­per scam

Financial Chronicle - - FUNDAMENTALS, POLITICS - PRESS TRUST OF IN­DIA

BRI­TISH busi­ness­man Chris­tian Michel, the al­leged mid­dle­man in the graft-tainted Rs 3,600 crore Agusta-West­land VVIP chop­per deal dur­ing the UPA rule, was Wed­nes­day sent to five-day CBI cus­tody by a Delhi court, a day after he was ex­tra­dited to In­dia from the UAE.

Michel, 57, was pro­duced be­fore Spe­cial CBI Judge Arvind Ku­mar amid tight se­cu­rity at the Pa­tiala House courts com­plex. The Cen­tral Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (CBI) ar­rested Michel, who was chargesheeted in the Agusta West­land case, on his ar­rival from Dubai late Tues­day night. Michel will again be pro­duced in the court on De­cem­ber 10.

CBI pros­e­cu­tor DP Singh said Michel was re­quired for cus­to­dial in­ter­ro­ga­tion to un­earth the “deep rooted con­spir­acy” and the money trail. The cus­tody was re­quired to iden­tify Michel’s ac­com­plices in­clud­ing the In­dian Air Force (IAF) of­fi­cials, bu­reau­crats and politi­cians, who were in­flu­enced / in­stru­men­tal in chang­ing the de­ci­sions, which made An­glo-Ital­ian com­pany Agusta West­land el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate in the bid­ding process and ul­ti­mately bagged it, he ar­gued.

In­dia has since scrapped the con­tract with Italy-based Fin­mec­ca­nica’s Bri­tish sub­sidiary Agusta West­land for sup­ply­ing 12 AW-101 VVIP chop­pers to the IAF over al­leged breach of con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions and charges of pay­ing kick­backs by it for se­cur­ing the deal. The deal, ini­tialled in 2010, was scrapped on Jan­uary 1, 2014.

While seek­ing cus­to­dial re­mand of Michel, the CBI pros­e­cu­tor con­tended “an amount of 42.27 mil­lion Euro (Rs 283 crore at the then pre­vail­ing ex­change rate) was paid by the West­land Group com­pa­nies to the firms of ac­cused Chris­tian Michel James as kick­backs / bribe with­out un­der­tak­ing any work against the re­ceipt of such amount.”

Michel is one of the three mid­dle­men be­ing probed in the case, be­sides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by the En­force­ment Direc­torate (ED) and the CBI. He had de­nied the charges and al­leged that the CBI wants him to take the names of the Gandhi fam­ily, a claim which had been re­futed by the cen­tral probe agency.

In the court, the spe­cial judge was in­formed by the CBI that its in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed Michel had en­tered into 12 con­tracts through two of his firms — M/s Global Trade and Com­merce Ltd, Lon­don and M/s Global Ser­vices FZE, Dubai, UAE, with M/s Fin­mec­ca­nica, M/s Agusta West­land, M/s West­land He­li­copters, UK, etc.

The CBI pros­e­cu­tor ar­gued this was done by Michel to le­git­imise the il­licit com­mis­sion on the pro­cure­ment of VVIP He­li­copters by the Min­istry of De­fence. He said the ac­cused has to be in­ter­ro­gated thor­oughly for which his 14 days cus­tody was re­quired but the judge granted five-day cus­tody. He fur­ther sub­mit­ted Michel has to be con­fronted with num­ber of doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion and the CBI has to find out the role and iden­tity of other ac­cused per­sons in­volved in the al­leged pay­offs.

The CBI’s plea for cus­tody was op­posed by Michel’s coun­sel Aljo K Joseph and Vishnu Shankaran who said they have not yet re­ceived any doc­u­ments from the agency and that the ac­cused may be re­manded to ju­di­cial cus­tody. The court also re­jected the oral prayer of Michel’s coun­sel that a lawyer be per­mit­ted to be present at all times dur­ing his in­ter­ro­ga­tion.

Ear­lier on Tues­day night, Michel had an anx­i­ety at­tack upon reach­ing the CBI head­quar­ters past mid­night for which doc­tors were called to at­tend him, of­fi­cial sources said. Michel was given med­i­cal treat­ment after which he was sub­jected to in­tense grilling about the money trail and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of doc­u­ments, they said. He was al­lowed to sleep for two hours be­tween 4 am and 6 am Wed­nes­day be­fore be­ing pro­vided with break­fast. After 6 am, he was again sub­jected to ques­tion­ing by the of­fi­cials of the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Team (SIT) of the CBI be­fore be­ing taken to the court in the af­ter­noon.

In more trou­ble for Michel, of­fi­cial sources said he will be made to un­dergo a sep­a­rate round of grilling by the ED over the pur­ported cre­ation of “shell firms” in In­dia and abroad that were al­leged to have been cre­ated by him and oth­ers to laun­der bribe money.

The Bri­tish High Com­mis­sion also stepped in and sought con­sular ac­cess to Michel.

Chris­tian Michel at CBI head­quar­ters in New Delhi, on Wed­nes­day

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