Why AgustaWestland broker Christian Michel should not be taken so seriously

The middleman, in his disclosures to India Today TV, gives a clean chit to Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

 |  5-minute read |   11-05-2016
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Can AgustaWestland middleman Christian Michel be trusted?

Going by the exclusive interview with India Today TV on May 11, it is apparent Michel is out to shield Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

In the course of the interview, the middleman in the Rs 3,700-crore VVIP chopper deal openly defended the top Congress leaders to the hilt. He is well aware that he can defend himself only if the top Congress leaders emerge unscathed out of this raging controversy.

He claimed that kickback was not paid to any senior Congress leaders. By defending them, he said, he was defending himself. "I'm defending them because I've been accused of doing something illegitimate with them, so I'm defending myself. The fact that I'll have to defend them as well makes my life more difficult, because they are very big people and very difficult to defend with many political issues which I don't have."

He denied having met Sonia, former prime minister Manmohan Singh or former defence minister AK Antony (whom he addressed as Saint Antony) during the ten years of the UPA government. Asked if he ever met the top Congress leaders while the Italian company was lobbying to sell its choppers to the Indian Air Force (IAF), Michel said, "No, never".

"I've no relations (with the Congress leaders), I'm not close to the Congress. I don't know them at all," he said.

The man behind the AgustaWestland scam also gave a clean chit to the Congress when asked whether they interfered in the deal. "The Congress never interfered in the Agusta deal. I avoid meeting leaders, my expertise is implementation," he said.

On the other hand, he was largely critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy and even the CAG report on the AgustaWestland deal - all those who are hurting the Congress and him. Hence, the middleman's responses cannot be taken on face value.

India Today TV tracked Michel, who has an Interpol Red Corner Notice against him, down in Dubai. Michel. He denied meeting top Congress leaders or having done anything illegal in the controversial deal. He also claimed that the previous Manmohan Singh government never interfered in the deal in the entire ten years of UPA rule.But he contradicted himself while speaking about Modi.

On the one hand, he defended the incumbent Modi government and said it too did not interfere in the VVIP chopper deal. However, he alleged that the PM met his Italian counterpart in New York. Moreover, an arrest warrant was issued against him the day Modi reached New York. "It cannot be a coincidence," he claimed.

Like the Congress leaders, Michel too found faults with Swamy. Revealing that his father had met him several times, he alleged that the BJP leader has been "misled" by the CAG report on the issue of cabin height of the choppers, height at which they could fly and also the test trials away from India.

"The CAG report was prepared in a great hurry as all of that deal was blowing up. Those who prepared it were not aviation experts but bureaucrats who were asked to put together a document which was beyond their expertise. He (Swamy) was misled by his own documentation and it's an unfortunate situation that everyone in the aviation industry, when they heard his speech (in the Rajya Sabha), were shaking their head," he said.

Michel said the only person related to AgustaWestland whom he met was former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi. "I probably met him at Delhi's Gymkhana Club at a social event," he said.

However, he called Tyagi just a "front cover for bigger activities going on in Mauritius". He named lawyer Gautam Khaitan as the "brains" behind the scam. "... Khaitan opened bank accounts and was responsible for moving money," Michel alleged.

Parliament is witnessing massive confrontation as the government has named Sonia, her political secretary Ahmed Patel and other top Congress leaders in the scam.

The VVIP chopper deal probe has shed light on the involvement of three alleged middlemen - Carlo Gerosa, Guido Haschke and Michel - in swinging the deal in favour of UK-based AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian firm Finmeccanica.

15 key points of the interview:

1. I have never met Sonia Gandhi

2. I have never ever met Manmohan Singh or AK Antony.

3. Congress never interefered in the Agusta deal.

4. Modi government has also not interfered in the deal.

5. Avoid meeting leaders, my expertise is implementation.

6. I probably met ex-Air chief SP Tyagi in Gymkhana club. Met Tyagi and others and I wasn't keen on them.

7. Spent 6.25 million to cover everything.

8. Was keeping an eye on media to submit reports. Doing anything illegal or illicit out of question. Deal wasn't the way media portrayed it.

9. I can't say there were no kickbacks.

10. I wasn't involved in height and weight specifications. Only know what happened after 2007 after I got involved.

11. Agusta chairman was my very good friend. Haschke, Gerosa's meeting suspicious.

12. Haschke also admitted that money was given.

13. I was very suspicious of them and was critical of engineering software.

14. Deal should have been direct with India and that's what I always said.

15. Was introduced to Julie Tyagi as a powerful industrialist. Julie is a very nice man. He didn't promise me of any deal. I was very nervous of them.

Writer

Kumar Shakti Shekhar Kumar Shakti Shekhar @shaktishekhar

Delhi-based journalist with more than 20 years of experience in reporting for print, TV & digital media.

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