Christian Michel, the British ‘consultant’ who allegedly played a vital role in fixing the VVIP chopper deal for AgustaWestland, is alleged to have told officials of the company to “target” the closest advisers of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to win the contract.
A note to this effect has been produced by Italian prosecutors before the court. The note, allegedly sent in March 2008 by the elusive Michel to Peter Hulett, the then Head of Region, Government Sales, at AgustaWestland’s India office, is one of the many documents that Italian investigators seized from the office of Switzerland-based middleman Guido Haschke.
Haschke is facing trial in the case of alleged 51 million-euro kickbacks generated in the Indian VVIP chopper deal. He was arrested in Switzerland in October 2013. Last month, India terminated the deal on the ground that the integrity pact had been violated, and unfair practices adopted by Agusta. The defence ministry is currently engaged in arbitration on the contract that was inked in 2010.
The note, dated March 15, 2008, is addressed to Hulett and instructs him to advise the British high commissioner in India (AgustaWestland is an Anglo-Italian firm) to “target” people close to Sonia Gandhi. “As Mrs Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP, she will not fly any more in the Mi 8. Mrs Gandhi and her closest advisers are the people the High Commissioner should target,” the note reads. Mi-8s are choppers that the IAF currently deploys as VIP aircraft.
Prosecutors have produced this document as part of their questioning of Haschke. In its edition of January 10, The Indian Express had reported that the prosecutors had also asked Haschke in court if the reference to one ‘AP’ in a ‘budget sheet’ of the middlemen was about Sonia’s key aide Ahmed Patel.
Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano has reported that the prosecutors also produced a picture of Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel during the hearing to question Haschke, but the middleman said that he only recognised Sonia in it.
The existence of the middlemen’s ‘budget sheet’ was reported by The Sunday Express on December 8, 2013. This document has been shared by Italian investigators with an Indian CBI team that went to Milan for the hearings.
Michel’s alleged note to Hulett, a copy of which has been accessed by The Indian Express, lists seven advisers who Michel feels should be “targeted” by the British envoy: Manmohan Singh, Ahmed Patel, Pranab Mukherjee, Veerappa Moily, Oscar Fernandes, M K Narayanan and Vinay Singh.