Was there a 'Bofors flavour' in the Agusta deal? Raju Santhanam’s book 'The Untold Story of Christian Michel' makes startling suggestions

Rajiv Gandhi’s alleged proximity to Christian Michel’s father, Wally, is closely discussed in the book. It raises as many questions as it answers.

 |  4-minute read |   06-06-2019
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Christian James Michel, a controversial arms dealer, currently in custody over the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland Choppergate case, allegedly has an old ‘Gandhi family’ connection.

In a new book, The Untold Story of Christian Michel and AgustaWestland (Roli Books), journalist Raju Santhanam offers a fascinating 360-degree account of murky arms deals to showcase how Choppergate apparently has a distinct ‘Bofors’ flavour.

Santhanam, a former The Statesman and Zee News investigative correspondent, gives a compelling account to readers of Michel’s father Wolfgang Max Richard Michel, alias Wally Michel, a mystery man who had supposedly forewarned some about Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984.  

cover-690_060519044927.jpgA book of many secrets: The Untold Story of Christian Michel and AgustaWestland, Raju Santhanam (Roli Books, 232 pgs). (Photo: PTI)

Michel senior was in London then and had reportedly come to know that the Khalistan movement had recruited somebody very close to Indira Gandhi for the purpose of her assassination. Wally Michel reportedly sent a note to her trusted aide, the late RK Dhawan, indicating a possible assassination attempt.

Two weeks later, she was assassinated.

When Rajiv Gandhi ordered a number of raids, the warning letter was discovered.

It perhaps explains why Dhawan was kept in the doghouse for almost four years and a commission of inquiry reportedly pointed a needle of suspicion towards him.

Wally Michel, a German, had fled his home country after World War II, arriving in London, and rising to enjoy the confidence of the highest level in British intelligence. He had reportedly earned defence deals in Saudi Arabia and Libya — the two countries the West was loath to touch. His activities transcended arms deals, blurring the borders between state to state relations, diplomacy and intelligence. During Indira Gandhi’s era, Wally Michel was a frequent visitor to Delhi and is said to have helped the government of India in setting up a crude oil contract with Saudi Arabia and was apparently in touch with several emissaries in India’s UK mission.

In London, Wally Michel reportedly remained in close contact with the Indian High Commission and was regularly requested for advice relating to international politics and assistance on the ground in the UK through his many contacts. According to Santhanam, Wally was asked to monitor the activities of the Khalistani movement in the UK, particularly focusing on their alleged leader, Bir Singh Parmar.

After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Rajiv Gandhi reportedly asked the British government to send Wally Michel to India.

“On arrival, he was interviewed by the investigating officer, KK Paul (former governor and husband of bureaucrat Omita Paul), who Wolfgang later described as one of the finest men he had ever met. He was cleared of any wrongdoing and the failure of the intelligence was put down to a failure of the security system,” Santhanam writes in his book.

Tall and good looking, Wally Michel had the winning charm of inborn confidence — all of which gave him easy access to the reserved echelons of English society.

He and his equally stunning wife (Michel’s mother) made for an extraordinarily good-looking couple. However, Santhanam believes that at times, Wally could be extremely unpleasant towards his wife, a tendency which reportedly drew Christian Michel’s ire and, during one of the many fights his parents had, he is said to have physically tried to defend his mother.

michel-690_060519045215.jpgBefore him, the father: Christian Michel's presence in India was reportedly preceded by his father's alleged proximity to the highest powers. (Photo: AP)

With a booming voice and an unmissable presence, Wally had a way with women that led to most of his adventures. Santhanam claims that Wally openly dated the beautiful Anne Max Mueller, a much sought-after London socialite. This relationship led him apparently to buying the typing pool connected to the Houses of Parliament in those days. These lady typists were typing confidential documents on behalf of UK ministers — they could be a good source of information.

Wally’s alleged proximity to Rajiv Gandhi reportedly helped Westland earn a contract in 1986 — though the Prime Minister was reportedly opposed to it. Relying upon confidential documents, Santhanam claims that Rajiv’s volte-face was allegedly a result of some lobbying from the then-British premier Margaret Thatcher. “When Chinmaya Gharekhan (secretary to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi) informed the British Prime Minister’s office that the deal was done, a significant line was also added — this was being done “for her sake!” reveals a cable as reproduced by Santhanam in his book.

Speaking at Pali in Rajasthan in December 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described the arrest of Christian Michel as a ‘razdaar’ — or a ‘custodian of secrets’.

PM Modi had then remarked, “Under the regime of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), a VVIP chopper scam took place. After we came to power, an investigation was conducted into it and one person from Dubai was found (allegedly) guilty for his involvement in the case. Now this razdaar will reveal all the secrets.”

Many will be watching all agog.

Also read: Christian Michel’s extradition: Amid the exchange of political fire, what the echoes of Bofors tell us

Writer

Rasheed Kidwai Rasheed Kidwai @rasheedkidwai

Journalist-author Rasheed Kidwai is a visiting fellow of ORF]

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