The AgustaWestland case main accused, Christian Michel, was questioned by the investigating agencies, CBI and ED for a month after being extradited to India from Dubai on 5 January 2018 – but it seems that the agencies still haven’t made any major breakthroughs in the case, especially in cracking the alleged bribe money trail.
As recently as 30 December, the Enforcement Directorate wrote a letter to Michel’s lawyer seeking bank accounts statements and balance sheets of his companies.
Does this mean that the agencies, since the inception of the probe in 2012, haven’t been able to get access to the bank details of his companies through which bribe money was allegedly paid? Did the banks located in these foreign countries refuse to share Michel’s companies’ bank account details with Indian agencies?
The agencies had claimed that Michel entered into 12 contracts with AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica through two of his firms – namely M/s Global Trade & Commerce Ltd. in London and M/s Global Services FZE in Dubai – to legitimise the alleged kickbacks on the procurement of VVIP choppers by India.
It also alleged by the agencies that Euro 42.27 million (Rs 295 crore approx) was paid by the Finmeccanica Group, AgustaWestland’s parent company, to Michel’s firms as alleged kickbacks in the VVIP chopper deal.
The Quint has learnt that Dubai banks have refused to share Michel’s bank statements with the Indian agencies without the authorisation of the bank holder. Hence, the agencies are now dependent on Michel’s lawyer for access to his bank statements.
We have also learnt from sources that Michel has not cooperated with the CBI or ED in sharing any information. According to Michel’s lawyer, Aljo K Joseph, he has refused to share their client’s bank details or make any statement under the Right Against Forced Self-Incrimination of Article 20 (3) of the Constitution.
Here are the bank accounts and companies, the details and bank statements of which the ED is requesting from Michel’s lawyers:
- M/s Global Services FZE has 4 accounts with Lloyds TSB Bank PLC in UAE
- M/s Global Services FZE also has 7 accounts with RAK bank and 7 accounts in HSBC in UAE
- M/s Global Oil FZE has 5 accounts with RAK in UAE
- M/s Global Trade and Commerce Limited has 3 accounts with Lloyds TSB (Trustee Savings Bank ) PLC in UK
- Michel has 3 accounts with Noor Bank in Dubai
The ED investigating officers requested Michel’s lawyer to email documents related to the above bank accounts at the earliest.
‘After All This Time, You Still Need Help’: Michel’s Lawyer Snubs ED
The ED letter reveals that a few documents related to the case were submitted before the Special Judge of the Patiala House Court in a pen drive by Michel’s lawyer. On the court’s order, these documents in the pen drive were also shared with the ED and CBI.
But it seems that the investigating officers are not satisfied with the documents shared by Michel’s lawyer.
The investigating officer lists the content of the documents in the pen drive which comprises of legal documents, newspaper articles, contracts between AgustaWestland and Michel related to the VVIP chopper deal, etc.
The investigating officer also mentioned in the letter that the defence has not handed over all the documents as promised.
"“The (defence) advocate (in the AgustaWestland case) had stated (in the Patiala House court) that the pen drive contains the bank statements of Mr Christian Michel James’s and his companies and also the audited accounts including balance sheets of the companies M/s Global Services FZE and M/s Global Oil, FZE in Dubai and M/s Global Trade and Commerce in UK. However, the perusal of the document in the pen drive revealed that only the bank statement of M/s Westland Helicopters Ltd. is provided. No bank statements of Mr Christian Michel James, his companies and audited bank accounts were provided.”" - ED letter to Michel’s lawyer
The ED has asked for the bank statements of 29 accounts in different banks since their inception till 31 December 2014.
In an email reply to ED, Michel’s lawyer questioned the agency’s competence.
"“…the accountant of Michel is on vacation and it is not possible for him to give any consent to the direct acquisition of his bank account. In Italy, where Indian Authorities were party of the proceeding, he was considered innocent. After 13 years of the tender, 6 years of proceedings and 30 days of police custody in India, you still need help.” " - Rosemary Patrizi, Michel’s lawyer
Even as ED sources concede that Michel’s lawyers have not parted with some key bank account statements and other financial documents, they say they do have “evidence on some of Michel’s bank accounts”. However, they weren’t prepared to elaborate on the nature of this evidence.
Michel was sent to jail on 5 January 2019. Sources say that while he was in 30-day CBI and ED custody, the officers questioned him primarily on the mysterious ‘budget note’ mentioning the acronyms ‘AP’ and ‘Fam’. The note is considered to be an important piece of evidence because the agencies believe that ‘AP’ stands for the senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel and ‘Fam’ stands for the Gandhi family.
In an exclusive interview to The Quint, Guido Haschke, who worked with Michel in the VVIP chopper deal, claims that the note in no way relates to the Congress party or the Gandhi family. He also added that Michel is a ‘name dropper’ and the note is nothing but his a ‘figment of [his] imagination’.
Haschke also mentioned that money amount listed in the ‘note’ could have done with the aim of claiming that Michel had to pay bribes. But actually, it was pocketing the amount for himself to play up his position in the deal.
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