VVIP chopper case: ED to file fresh chargesheet, quiz Michel on shell firms

Agusta Westland scam accused middleman Christian Michel at CBI headquarters in New Delhi, on early Wednesday | Photo: PTI

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) will question alleged middleman in the Rs 36 billion VVIP choppers deal Christian Michel over purported creation of "shell firms" in India and abroad by him and others to launder bribe money, official sources said on Wednesday.

The central probe agency is expected to either seek fresh custody of Michel or move an application for questioning of the accused alongside the CBI under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

The agency may also file a fresh (supplementary) chargesheet in this case detailing the role of other accused.

The ED, which is probing the case along with the CBI, had filed a chargesheet against Michel in 2016 and had alleged that Michel received Euro 30 million (about Rs 2.25 billion) from AgustaWestland which was nothing but "kickbacks" paid by the firm to execute the 12 helicopter deal in favour of the firm in "guise of" of genuine transactions for performing multiple work contracts in the country.

Michel, 57, was extradited by India from the UAE and was brought to Delhi late Tuesday night. He was formally arrested by the CBI and produced before a special court here on Wednesday that sent him to five days of the agency's custody.

They said Michel will be confronted with the documents that have been either seized or obtained by the agency in this probe till now and will be asked to "join the dots" of the alleged dubious payments or bribes made by him and others to those in power-- politicians and bureaucrats.

The ED, the sources said, will specifically asked about their "dealings" with Indian Air Force (IAF) officials during the course of the VVIP choppers deal.

The agency has some trail and evidence of the illegal monies sent abroad or routed from foreign shores to India vis-a-vis this case and Michel is expected to tell the investigators about the entire flow of money that has happened in at least two bank accounts in Delhi and few accounts linked to a media firm in Delhi, they said.

There are a few firms that were floated in India and abroad for routing the alleged bribe money and such companies were nothing but dummy or shell firms, they said.

Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, apart from Italian Guido Haschke (US and Italian nationality) and Carlo Gerosa (Swiss and Italian nationality).

The ED in its chargesheet had said that the three middlemen "managed to" make inroads into the IAF in order to influence and subvert the stand of the air force regarding reducing the service ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000-metres to 4,500 metres in 2005 after which AgustaWestland became eligible to supply a dozen helicopters for flying VVIP sorties.

ED investigations have found that remittances made by Michel through his Dubai-based firm Global Services, FZE to a media firm he floated in Delhi, along with two Indians, were made from the funds which he got from AgustaWestland SpA through "criminal activity" and corruption being done in the chopper deal that led to the subsequent generation of proceeds of crime.

The PMLA probe found that AgustaWestland Chief Executive Officer Bruno Spagnolini was paying "kickbacks" to Michel and the two other middlemen in the guise of numerous "consultancy contracts" and Michel alone received Euro 30 million in his Dubai company accounts and others under this arrangement.

The agency has also detected that the media firm floated by Michel in Delhi, along with two Indians, was nothing but a "shell company" to "launder the proceeds of crime".

The probe also found that Michel had hired a firm to provide to him from India an analysis of market publications related to manufacturing industry active in the Indian defence arena, the economic and financial trends in the country and overall views on private sector participation in Indian defence and manufacturing industry.

On January 1, 2014, India scrapped the contract with Finmeccanica's British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying the 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs 4.23 billion by it for securing the deal.

The CBI had filed a chargesheet in September, 2017 in this case and had named Michel as one of the accused.

Former IAF Chief S P Tyagi was also listed in the chargesheet by the CBI along with nine others.


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