Updated: December 7, 2021 7:10:25 am
In his interrogation by the Enforcement Directorate, Christian Michel, the British middleman in the VIP helicopter bribery scam, opens a window to how arms agents navigate the Indian landscape by revealing some of his strategies, including how he initially masked the helicopter deal bid as a UK firm’s project to brighten its chances. He, however, disowned several documents he was confronted with, and fax dispatches he had allegedly dictated personally — even in front of key witnesses.
Over the past three days, The Indian Express reported key revelations from the ED’s interrogation, including Michel’s claims on how he lobbied the then UPA Government to salvage the deal in 2010, an intervention by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — and the agency’s finding that the accused allegedly entered into “sham contracts” with AgustaWestland to mask kickbacks.
According to the ED’s interrogation report, when Michel was asked about payments of Euro 18-19 million listed in evidence received from Italy being linked to payment for politicians, he said the details had “no merit” and also that the “budget sheet” was penned by the other AugustaWestland agent, Guido Haschke. Also that, “I do not accept that I have been in touch with political persons…”
Michel told investigators in detail about his other Delhi-based operations: a health club business, a dealership in luxury crystalware and real estate deals. He provided insights on the operations of defence agents in Delhi, each trying to corner procurement contracts. Rarely were confidential matters discussed on phone, Michel told sleuths. “In the Hyatt on the sixth floor business lounge there were too many companies listening. So often after work we would review in my flat the past day’s work,” he said. Michel claimed AgustaWestland lobbyists were helped by Israelis. Asked about his access to classified information, he said: “…occasionally we received something straight out of the Ministry. The Israelis knew everything that was going on and wanted us to win (the deal) and would give us briefings…”
On alleged pay-offs, Michel replied: “I spent a long time in India. I had many opportunities for meetings at important levels inside the services but never took this step as it was for me one step too far and preferred to depend on my Israeli and second-tier contacts…” Michel also claimed that he had initially made out the VIP chopper bid as that of a British firm. During a deposition on January 1, 2019, he said: “Firstly, there were a lot of tenders coming very soon about Italian projects. So Italy was very soon going to be overwhelmed. We know that only a certain amount of work will be given to one country so it was wise to share it around. And I felt such a high profile deal was better run out of UK…” He even claimed to have written a strategy paper for for the supply of the 126 Multi-Role Combat Aircraft to the IAF. Records show that he referred to Dassault, SAAB, Eurofighter and Lockheed Martin as the main competitors.
Records show, Michel gave the ED a list of 96 “contacts” in India, and admitted to alleged cash payment of Rs 22 lakh to Julie Tyagi, another accused and cousin of former IAF chief S P Tyagi who was jailed. Michel said he had “never met” Gautam Khaitan, the lawyer who is now out on bail. The records do not have any details of Michel’s direct contact with another accused, chartered accountant Rajeev Saxena, who was extradited from Dubai in 2019. Records show payments to Saxena’s companies among the 134 listed in an audit report of AgustaWestland.
Michel spoke about Dev Mohan Gupta, the father of Sushen Mohan Gupta, an accused who is now out on bail. “In the year 2000, Dassault was trying to sell 12 Mirages to India and Dev Mohan Gupta was promoting the deal with the local boss of Dassault,” he told the ED. The references link Michel’s confessions to reports by French portal Mediapart, which alleged that Gupta and his affiliates received “bribes” from Dassault Aviation. Dassault denied the allegations.
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