THE Enforcement Directorate (ED) told a Delhi court Saturday that during questioning in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case, alleged midddleman Christian Michel had taken “Mrs Gandhi’s” name in reference to a query, and that he had later managed to hand over a follow-up question to his lawyer seeking directions on “what to say”, calling it “a conspiracy to shield or tamper with evidence”.
Appearing before Vacation Judge Chandra Shekhar, the ED’s Special Public Prosecutor, D P Singh, said: “Parson (December 27) inhone Mrs Gandhi ka naam liya tha ek kisi reference mein. Main reference ka naam nahin loonga. To humein follow-up question karna tha ki Mrs Gandhi kaun hai… Medical examination ke time par unhein legal access diya gaya tha ki achaanak ye notice kiya gaya ki unhone kuchch diya hai, jo vakil sahib ne apne jeb mein rakh diya. Jab check kiya gaya to Mrs Gandhi par jo follow-up questions they woh vakil sahib ko slip-in kiye gaye (Day before yesterday, Michel took Mrs Gandhi’s name in some reference. I won’t say in what reference. So we needed to ask him a follow-up question as to who Mrs Gandhi is… He was given legal access during medical examination when suddenly we noticed that he handed over something to his lawyer, who pocketed it. When we checked, we found that the follow-up questions related to Mrs Gandhi had been slipped to the lawyer).”
Claiming “a conspiracy to shield or tamper with evidence”, the prosecutor said this could be revealed from questioning of the accused. Also submitting an incident report on the matter and asking that Michel be denied access to his lawyers, D P Singh said, “Benefits of legal access should be discontinued… He was actually seeking some direction on what to say and also to send word outside on the line of questioning.”
The ED further said that in one of the contract negotiation documents, “it is mentioned ‘son of an Italian lady… Going to be the next PM’… We have to also confront him with these documents… We have to identify the proceeds of the crime. Officials have been paid money near the North Block and we have to identity them… We also need to decipher who the ‘big man’ referred to as ‘R’ is in the communication between Christian Michel and other people. We need to confront Michel with other people to decipher who ‘the big man’ or ‘R’ is.”
An accused in the alleged Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland scam, Michel was extradited from the UAE recently and is currently in the ED’s custody. The agency sought his custody for eight more days on Saturday, and the judge granted a week.
In its remand application, the ED said its investigation was continuing on various issues, listing “the modus operandi adopted by the accused to eliminate Tata and HAL from competition in an Italian deal”; “steps undertaken to mask/portray the present deal as a British deal instead of Italian deal to gain advantage in light observation helicopters”; and “how the accused violated and misused information leading to actions under the Officials Secrets Act”.
The prosecutor said Michel had been making claims contrary to records. “The accused is trying to introduce new alibis to save himself and his aides who have received/facilitated in laundering the proceeds of the crime. However, these claims have been found to be self-serving and his custodial interrogation is thus required to confront him with the newly introduced alibis,” the ED submitted.
Michel’s lawyer Alio Joseph submitted that he was not disputing that a chit was given by Michel to him, but said that he had handed it over to the officials and that he “did not see anything” what was in the chit. “There is no need for taking anyone’s name here (referring to Mrs Gandhi’s name),” he added.
In his order, Judge Shekhar said that Michel’s lawyers — including Joesph and Sriram Parakkat and Vishnu Shankar — will be allowed to meet him one at a time and the legal assistance will be only for 15 minutes each in the morning and evening. Earlier, it was for 30 minutes each. There has been little more than speculation and insinuation based on available evidence in the case to implicate the Gandhi family. Much of the speculation is based on a hand-written note found in a raid by Swiss authorities.
This document was produced in the Milan Court of Appeals which, on April 8, convicted former Finmeccanica chief Giusep Orsi and head of AgustaWestland chopper division Bruno Spagnolini on charges of corruption. The document mentions codes like “AP”, “Fam”, “Pol” and “Bur” against payments that needed to be made to them.
The CBI had earlier claimed that this document was prepared by Michel and that it showed that “the amount of Euro 30 million has been or was to be paid as illegal gratification to various persons associated in the said procurement, and others which include public/government servants, politicians, etc. However, this document is in coded form.”
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2015, Michel, however, claimed that this “budget sheet” was fake. “What this alleged budget sheet is about is a crude attempt by (Guido) Haschke (another middleman) to leave a fake budget sheet in his bag to distract the authorities in case he is raided. Haschke needed this to negotiate a plea bargain with Italian authorities,” Michel said in his letter, dated November 8, 2015. “This is one of the oldest tricks played by many hawala dealers in India: leave a fake black book in your safe, falsely naming everyone not involved whom you may have a grudge against, in case you are raided,” he said.