British national Christian Michel James, the alleged middleman wanted in Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case, was grilled by the CBI after he reached India and slept barely for two hours, sources said Wednesday.
Fifty-seven-year old Michel, who was extradited to India on Tuesday night from Dubai, had an anxiety attack upon reaching the CBI headquarters in wee hours and doctors were called to attend to him.
After treatment, he was questioned about the money trail and identification of documents in the multi-crore rupee deal, sources said.
He was allowed to sleep for two hours between 4 am and 6 am on Wednesday before being given breakfast. After 6 am, he was again questioned by officials of the Special Investigation Team of the CBI, they said.
Escorted by a small convoy of police cars and bikes, he was taken to the CBI headquarters’ lockup at the ground floor of the imposing 11-floor steel and glass building where he reached around 1:20 am on Wednesday.
He was taken to the Patiala House court around 4 pm Wednesday which sent him to five days CBI custody, rejecting the agency’s plea for 14 days custody.
Special Judge Arvind Kumar allowed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to quiz the middleman till December 10.
In its remand application, the CBI told the court that an amount of 42.27 million euros was paid by the Westland Group of Companies to the firms of Michel as “kickbacks/bribe without undertaking any work against the receipt of such amount”.
The agency through its lawyer said that custodial interrogation of Christian Michel was needed “to unearth the deep rooted conspiracy and to identify his accomplices including the IAF officials, bureaucrats and politicians who influenced the decisions” which made AgustaWestland eligible to participate in the bidding process and “ultimately bag it”.
The CBI wants to question him to confront him with certain documents and confidential material which he allegedly had sent to his masters in Italy through fax, the agency claimed. It also wants to know how the money, Euro 42.27 million, which was received by Michel’s companies from Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland, was distributed further to establish money trail of alleged bribes paid to swing the Rs. 3,600 crore 12-helicopter deal for VVIP flights, it said.
The agency has alleged that Michel has evaded any probe in the matter which puts him on a different pedestal than Guido Haschke — another middleman — who faced trial in Italy and entered in plea bargain.
Special Public Prosecutor DP Singh also informed the court that James had entered into as many as 12 contracts with AugustaWestland through two of his firms — Global Trade and Commerce Ltd, London, and Global Services FZE, Dubai UAE — with Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland and Westland Helicopters UK to legitimize the illicit commission on the procurement of VVIP Helicopters by the Indian Defence Ministry.
The CBI had filed a charge sheet against him in September last year.
“An open non-bailable arrest warrant dated September 24, 2015, was issued by the special judge, CBI cases, Patiala House Courts, New Delhi,” CBI’s spokesperson said.
On the basis of this warrant, a Red Corner Notice was issued by the Interpol which led to his arrest in Dubai in February 2017, he said.
Michel was behind bars in Dubai since he was arrested and sent to custody pending the legal and judicial procedure in the UAE. After the courts cleared his extradition, the UAE government ordered him to be taken to India rejecting his plea that he was a British citizen.
It was alleged that he had entered into a criminal conspiracy with co-accused persons, which included the then IAF chief SP Tyagi and his family members, and the public servants had abused their official positions by reducing service ceiling of the VVIPs helicopter from 6,000 m to 4,500 m.
The reduction in ceiling made AgustaWestland eligible for contract worth 556.262 million Euros, which was awarded to it by the Defence Ministry on February 08, 2010, for procurement of 12 VVIP helicopters.
On January 1, 2014, India scrapped the contract with Italy-based Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs. 423 crore by it for securing the deal.
Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
The CBI has alleged there was an estimated loss of Euro 398.21 million (approximately Rs. 2,666 crore) to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010 for the supply of VVIP choppers worth Euro 556.262 million.
(With agency inputs)