January 05, 2019:
On Saturday, a Delhi court sent alleged middleman Christian Michel, arrested in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case, to judicial custody.
Michel was produced before special judge Arvind Kumar and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) sought his judicial custody in connection with its probe into a money-laundering case.
In the ED case, the court sent Michel to judicial custody till Feb 26 and in the CBI case, it sent him to judicial custody till Feb 27.
Michel, who was extradited from Dubai recently, was arrested by the ED on Dec 22 and sent to a seven-day custody of the agency by a court here.
He was earlier lodged in the Tihar Jail here in a related CBI case.
The ED, through special public prosecutors DP Singh and NK Matta, told the court that probe had been “fruitful” till now.
It said, “We have investigated how cash was transferred through ‘hawala’ and multiple bank accounts. We have found information about other defense deals. We need to investigate the money flowing there as well. We have documents to show that they misled the Italian court.”
The court had earlier imposed restrictions on Michel meeting his lawyers in ED custody after the agency said he was misusing legal access by passing chits to the advocates, asking them how to tackle questions on “Mrs. Gandhi”.
In its application seeking extension of Michel’s remand, the agency also claimed that during questioning, he had spoken about the “son of an Italian lady” and how he was going to become the next prime minister of the country.
The agency told the court, “We also need to decipher who the ‘big man’ referred to as ‘R’ is in the communication between Christian Michel and other people.”
The ED sought that Michel be barred from meeting his lawyers in custody, alleging that he was being tutored from outside through his lawyers.
The agency told the court that Michel had made a reference to “Mrs Gandhi” during his interrogation on Dec 27.
During his medical examination, the accused had handed over a folded paper to his lawyer, Aljo K Joseph, and it was noticed by the ED officials.
After the perusal of the paper, it was revealed that it pertained to a set of follow-up questions on “Mrs Gandhi”, the ED said.
The agency told the court that it was clear that there was a conspiracy to shield or tamper with evidence that could be brought forth from the questioning of the accused.
It said it had discovered fresh evidence relating to new entities used for laundering the proceeds of crime and that Michel’s custodial interrogation was needed for confronting his Indian connections identified till date.
His custody was required for “unearthing the deep-rooted conspiracy and identification of all his accomplices, including the IAF officials, MoD (Ministry of Defence) officials, bureaucrats and politicians who gained undue advantage for getting the contract in favour of AgustaWestland,” the ED said in its application, adding that Michel remained evasive to certain questions during investigation.
Michel is among the three alleged middlemen being probed in the case by the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The others are Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
The ED, in its remand application on Saturday, said the probe had revealed that Michel was the key middleman for AgustaWestland, pursuing the deal at different levels, and was instrumental in the circulation of sensitive information and eventual payment of kickbacks.
The key issues being investigated by the ED include the modus operandi adopted by the accused to eliminate TATA and HAL from competition in an Italian deal and the steps undertaken to mask the present deal as a British deal, instead of an Italian deal, to gain advantage in Light Observation Helicopters.
The agency is also probing the modus operandi adopted in influencing the German deal and how the accused misused information, leading to actions under the Official Secrets Act, and to determine if there were any more kickbacks, leading to the proceeds of crime linked with these activities.
The agency said it needed to determine the exact quantum of money laundered through the Media Exim Private Limited, the roles of the co-accused and unearth the proceeds of crime parked through this channel.
The ED, in its charge-sheet filed against Michel in June 2016, had alleged that he had received 30 million euros — about ₹225 crore — from AgustaWestland.
The CBI, in its chargesheet, has alleged an estimated loss of 398.21 million euros (about ₹2,666 crore) to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010 for the supply of VVIP choppers worth 556.262 million euros.