The CBI received five-day custody of British defence consultant Christian Michel on 5 December, for his alleged involvement in the AgustaWestland Chopper scam.
I’m Vishnu Gopinath and the big story of the day is the AgustaWestland Chopper Scam. What is it and why is it making headlines again?
The CBI questioned Christian Michel for hours on 5 December before presenting him before a special court, for his role in the AgustaWestland chopper scam.
Dubai had extradited Michel to India on the night of 4 December, in a big diplomatic win for the Modi government.
Michel is accused of being a middleman in the chopper deal and taking kickbacks to ensure that the Rs 3,500 crore chopper deal went to British defence company Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland.
Where Does the UPA Government Come into the Picture?
The UPA government at the time, under Manmohan Singh, was accused of looking the other way while the deal took place. Based on evidence submitted in Italian courts, leaders of the Congress including Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, and Ahmed Patel among others, were linked to the deal, but no substantial accusation or charge was levelled against them.
Of course, adharniya Modiji, didn’t miss the chance to take multiple shots at the Congress.
"Now the middleman has been arrested, who knows what secrets he’ll spill? ‘VVIP helicopter! VVIP helicopter!’ You remember the news stories with Sonia Gandhi’s name on them?" - Narendra Modi, Prime Minister
Of course, the opposition hit back. The Quint got a word from Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who asked when Prime Minister Modi would answer questions about the “Rs. 30,000 crore fraud” of the Rafale Jet deal.
What Was the AgustaWestland Chopper Controversy?
After the Kargil War of 1999, the Indian Air Force realised it needed to replace its Russian Mi 38 helicopters which are used for VVIP conveyance i.e., the President, Vice President, Prime Minister etc.
The centre rejected a number of less expensive dealers and finally landed on defence manufacturer Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary – AgustaWestland.
In February 2010, the Indian government signed a Rs 3,546-crore contract with AgustaWestland for 12 of their AW101 choppers.
The first fleet of AW101s reached India in late 2012. Two more would follow soon after.
Meanwhile Italy was investigating alleged fraud cases by Finmeccanica. During this investigation it emerged that the deal with India could’ve possibly been facilitated by middlemen who took kickbacks.
Three men were named in Italy as alleged middlemen.
Carlo Gerosa, Guido Haschke and the man of the hour Christian Michel.
Former Finmeccanica CEO Giuessepe Orsi was also accused of being involved in the scandal and was convicted by an Italian court on charges of corruption and falsifying invoices in 2016. But his name was cleared in January 2018 by an Italian court.
Former Indian Air Force Chief SP Tyagi was also accused of money laundering in the same case but he was given a clean chit by an Italian court in January 2018. The Enforcement Directorate has also accused Tyagi and others of bribery in the case. Tyagi is currently out on bail while the hearing continues.
AgustaWestland Deal: What Was Christian Michel’s Alleged Involvement in This Case?
Well, in its charge sheet filed against Michel in June 2016, India’s Enforcement Directorate alleged that Michel received 30 million euros (or approximately Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland to facilitate the deal and to make it look genuine.
Michel has made a plea for bail to the special CBI court. His bail plea will be heard on 10 December. With Michel now confined to CBI custody till 10 December, the question on everyone’s lips is what next?
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