After an Italian court’s judgment mentioning Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh in relation to the AgustaWestland scam, the issue has already become a full-blown political controversy. Now, in a development which could be a further source of worry for the Congress’ first family, Christian Michel, an alleged middleman in the deal, may have expressed his willingness to turn an approver in the case, as reported by Times Now. While the claim about his willingness was made by his lawyer, Michel himself has unequivocally denied the possibility as of now.
In an interview with the news channel, his lawyer Rosemary Patrizi said that while Michel would like to travel to India and make the truth known, but not with an arrest warrant against him.
However, Michel, in an interview to India Today strongly denied this possibility, saying that turning approver “was out of the question.” However, he said that he is willing to submit proof related to the case through the Indian embassy.
This means that he could share inside information with India’s investigation agencies on who is involved in the alleged bribery scandal, in exchange for immunity from prosecution in India. Whether this will mean skeletons tumbling out of the closet will be seen in the time to come.
India has sought the extradition of Michel, and is also pursuing the extradition of other middlemen Carlo Geruso and Guido Haschke Ralph.
Michel is accused of having played a major role in clinching the deal, which is said to be worth Rs 36,000 crore. According to a report in Economic Times, Finmeccanica executives paid Michel £26 million to help finalise the deal. He serves as a director in three companies as of now, including Global Oil Ltd, Global Trade and Commerce Ltd and Fitness First (Curzons) Ltd.
In December last year, Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice against Michel, two months after a Delhi court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against him. Michel is facing charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, illegal gratification and abuse of official position.
CBI officials had then said that immigration authorities had been requested to issue a lookout circular against Michel in view of the Interpol notice.
With the AgustaWestland controversy reverberating in Parliament, Congress President Sonia Gandhi is at the centre of a political storm because of the reference to “Signora Sonia” as the “driving force” behind the purchase of the helicopters in a letter written by a middleman, James Christian Michel, to the India head of AgustaWestland, Peter Hulet.
An Italian court has also noted that there is “reasonable belief” that the helicopter deal was not fair or above board. Two former chiefs of the Indian Air Force, SP Tyagi and NAK Browne are under the scanner in relation to the case.
AgustaWestland’s Rs 3,600 crore contract for supplying 12 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force was scrapped by the then UPA government over charges of paying kickbacks to Indian agents.
In January 2013, India cancelled the deal and the CBI was assigned to investigate the matter.
With inputs from IANS