By Elton Gomes
The ongoing investigation into the AgustaWestland chopper scandal had a major development on Wednesday as a Dubai court passed a verdict to extradite Christian Michel, the British middleman in the scam. Michel was arrested in the UAE in 2017 and was facing extradition proceedings in the country. He is presently wanted in India for allegedly organising bribes in exchange for a contract for VVIP helicopters.
The Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland scam has been under investigation for irregularities on account of paying kickbacks to influence the government’s decision in getting the contract approved in favour of AgustaWestland. The case is currently being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
What has the ED alleged?
The ED has accused Michel of receiving 30 million euros (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland to facilitate the deal. The chargesheet noted that the money paid to Michel was “kickbacks” paid by AgustaWestland to swing the deal in its favour. A Dubai court passed an order for Michel’s extradition after India made an official request to the UAE seek his extradition.
The chargesheet filed by the ED also alleged that remittances made by Michel through his Dubai-based firm Global Services FZE to a media firm in Delhi were through funds received from AgustaWestland. The Hindu estimates that roughly three dozen individuals and companies, including former Air Chief S.P. Tyagi and his cousins, are still accused in the money-laundering cases.
Details of the court order
The details of the Dubai court’s order are still not known as the verdict is in Arabic, and the Indian authorities are now getting it translated into English. The order is seen as a major boost to investigations in the scandal. India Today reported that the Dubai court did not seem impressed with arguments made by Michel when he claimed that he was being made a scapegoat due to internal politics over the case in India.
Who else is being probed?
Besides Michel, the ED and the CBI are probing Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa. Both agencies have notified an Interpol red corner notice (RCN) against Michel after the court issued a non-bailable warrant against him. The Indian media has extensively interviewed Michel in Dubai, and the investigative agencies want him to be part of the probe to take the case forward. In the chargesheet, the ED also noted that the three middlemen “managed to” make inroads into the Indian Air Force to influence the officials into reducing the service ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 meters to 4,500 meters in 2005.
What is the AgustaWestland case?
In 2010, the Congress-led UPA government signed a contract with UK-based helicopter manufacturing company AgustaWestland to purchase 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force at a price of Rs 3,600 crore. These helicopters were to be used for flying the President of India, the Prime Minister, and other such VVIPs.
In February 2013, Italian police arrested AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica. Spagnolini and Orsi were charged with paying bribes to secure the VVIP helicopter deal with the Indian Air Force. The UPA government then put the deal on hold, and then Defence Minister A.K. Antony ordered a CBI investigation into the matter. A year later, in 2014, the UPA government cancelled the deal with AgustaWestland on grounds of the violation of the integrity pact. Media reports suggested that most of the money paid for the deal has been recovered.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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