When Rahul Gandhi made a one-line statement claiming, “I am always being targeted, happy to be targeted”, without stopping or slowing his hurried walk inside Parliament, he would not have anticipated that only hours later Rosemary Patrizi Dos Anjos, the lawyer of Christian Michel, the middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam — now a wanted criminal in India — would appear live on Times Now. Or that she would accept that her client had written a note naming Sonia Gandhi and describing her as ‘driving force’ behind the deal.
This has hit Congress where it could hurt it most.
Michel’s lawyer’s admission came at a time when the party is doing everything in its command to deflect the heat from its Sonia Gandhi‘s alleged involvement in the deal. This is additional ammunition for Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar when he rises to make a statement on the AgustaWestland scam on Wednesday in the Rajya Sabha.
The problem for the Congress and its first family is that the continuing revelations have cast a shadow on Rahul as well. BJP MP Kirit Somaiya has linked the family of Rahul’s aide Kanishka Singh with the other middleman Guido Ralph Haschke. Singh has denied the charge but Somaiya has made some fresh charges against Rahul Gandhi — of buying two shops in MGF Metropolitan Mall, Saket. And although Rahul owning a shop in that mall, or leasing it to MGF and finally selling it to MGF for profit does not have any direct connection with Choppergate per se, it does suggest that Haschke had his ways around the corridors of power in Delhi.
MGF is part of Emaar MGF and in September 2009, the company appointed Haschke and Gautam Khaitan as directors on its board. The same company had built the Commonwealth Games villages in New Delhi and hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons with the Union Urban Development Ministry and the Delhi Development Authority going out of the way to sweeten the deal for Emaar MGF.
This coupled with the revelations that the then defence minister AK Antony approved the blacklisting of AgustaWestland only on 12 May, 2014 — after it had become certain that the Congress was about to lose power at the Centre with the last phase of poling done and exit polls indicating that the Narendra Modi-led BJP was way ahead — will add to the Congress’ discomfort. The order banning procurement was finally issued on 3 July, 2014 by then defence minister Arun Jaitley.
The other question that the Congress will have to answer is why the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) virtually slept on the files for over one year, from March 2013 when the FIR was registered till May 2014 — the time the UPA government was ousted.
The Congress had so far been claiming that the Manmohan Singh government had blacklisted AgustaWestland, ordered a CBI, ED inquiry and it is the Modi government that should be blamed for inaction on the issue. Unfortunately for the Congress, after each of their claims, evidence has emerged that the party was consciously indulging in speaking half-truths or plain lies.
Patrizi’s stating, “I know about that note” in response to a query about the veracity of the note sent by Michel to Peter Hullet, who then helmed India operations of AgustaWestland, will have a damning effect on the Congress party because her statement negates the Congress’ claims about the authenticity of the unsigned note.
When Parrikar speaks in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress benches may have to deal with some moments of deep discomfort.
The former prime minister and former defence minister should be present in the House. However, it remains to be seen whether the Congress will allow Parrikar to make his full statement, also how Singh and Antony, if at all, counter him.
“I will place the detailed chronology, giving facts about the chopper deal before Parliament on Wednesday. I will place the detailed chronology, giving how and when necessary clauses or provisions were relaxed to suit the companies. Those who received kickbacks will not leave behind the proof for us to prosecute them, but we will have to prove it (that kickbacks were received).Why no action was taken against the company till 2014? Why was the company not blacklisted by then UPA government? I challenge the Congress to show the UPA government’s order blacklisting the AgustaWestland company. Let them reply first why it was not banned.”
As for middleman Michel offer’s to turn approver (made by his lawyer to Times Now on Tuesday night and denied later by Michel a little while later) with certain conditions attached that he would not be arrested, treated wrongly and so on, the government has already clarified that there would be no deal with him.
“It is well known that any understanding/agreement with an accused outside the frame of law is a criminal act in itself. James Christian Michael is a criminal wanted by the Indian law enforcement agencies. We are pursuing all legal means to arrest him and have him extradited to India. Mr Michel should submit himself to the Indian legal system rather than make elliptical references to offers that are suspect in intent and reality. We are determined that the law must take its course against Mr Michel and his associates in this matter,” the government said.