While it has secured the extradition of Christian Michel James, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, the CBI probe faces a hurdle.
Officials aware of the investigation have told The Indian Express that there is a problem in obtaining the statements of Michel’s UAE bank account which was allegedly used by the British national to transfer money to India, and subsequently paid to Indian politicians and bureaucrats. Because the bank, officials said, was later taken over, and the account statements relating to that period are unavailable — at least, until now.
On Wednesday, the CBI told a Delhi court that Michel transferred 37 million euros (then nearly Rs 240 crore, now Rs 300 crore) to India using 12 sham contracts. Officials said Michel operated a Lloyds TSB, UAE bank account in the name of Global Services FZE (GSF), Dubai.
According to the officials, an amount of 30 million euros was transferred into GSF’s account by AgustaWestland (previous parent Finmeccanica) during 2006-07. The CBI claimed that this money was transferred to India and distributed among politicians and bureaucrats. Details of money distribution have also been mentioned in a note sheet by Michel, and seized by the CBI.
But the Lloyds TSB, UAE account statement is still not available because the bank was acquired by the HSBC in 2011-12. The CBI-ED, in a letter rogatory to UAE, sought the bank account details but were informed by HSBC authorities that they do not possess the previous records (pre-merger). The Lloyds TSB too is learnt to have conveyed that statements related to the bank account are not available with them.
CBI officials maintain they have sufficient evidence against Michel and that UAE authorities have assured India to provide the bank account statements.
In a statement, the CBI alleged that Michel entered into as many as 12 contracts through two of his firms — Global Trade & Commerce Ltd, London and Global Services FZE, Dubai, UAE — with Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland and Westland Helicopters UK to legitimise the “illicit commission on the procurement of VVIP Helicopters by Ministry of Defence (MoD)”.
An amount of 42.27million euros (then approximately Rs 295 crore) was paid by the Finmeccanica Group to Michel’s firms as kickbacks/bribe without undertaking any work against receipt of the amount, the CBI said.
Officials said without the authorised bank data, the agency may find it difficult to conclusively prove the charges against Michel.
The agency had named Michel in its AgustaWestland case chargesheet, accusing him of criminal conspiracy with public servants who allegedly abused their official positions by reducing the service ceiling of the VVIPs helicopter from 6000 metres to 4500 metres and awarding a contract for an amount of 556.262 million euros to AgustaWestland International Ltd (AWIL), UK.
According to CBI, Michel was imposed as the controller of two other alleged middlemen, Ralph Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, because they lacked specific knowledge about helicopters. “At a meeting at Cascina Costa, Italy in July, 2006, Giuseppe Orsi, (then) CEO of AgustaWestland proposed that Michel will join Haschke and Gerosa in carrying out scouting and monitoring activities with regard to the acquisition of helicopters in India, keeping in view of his knowledge of Indian military operational mechanism,” the CBI had stated.