VVIP chopper deal: Middlemen possibly had other deals on radar

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NEW DELHI: Investigation into the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal has revealed that middlemen involved in the deal allegedly had some other Indian defence deals on their radar, including one for light observation helicopters and a contract to refurbish an airport, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Dispatches allegedly sent by alleged middleman Christian Michel and his interrogation showed that a conscious effort was made to project the Rs 3,600-crore chopper deal to be a victory of the “British” (British arm of Italian company Finmeccanica), they said.

This was done for two reasons, according to Michel’s 2,300-plus pages interrogation report by the ED, exclusively accessed by ET. Firstly, to ensure that no eyebrows are raised over “implied connections” of “the chairperson of the UPA” with Italy, and secondly, so that the Italian company remains in a position to secure more defence deals in India.

“If the VIP was seen as Italian, then Italy would not win any more helicopter deals for a while as India to an extent likes to give business to a spread of countries,” Michel allegedly said in his handwritten statement recorded under Section 50 of the PMLA, which is admissible in law. “Also I mentioned ‘politics’ (because) we are always cautious about Italy and implied connections with the chairperson of UPA.”

According to the interrogation report, Michel was confronted with a dispatch allegedly sent by him to a top official of AgustaWestland company on May 22, 2008. The dispatch referred to a news article and read: “The problem with this article is that they identify the 101 as an Italian product which we must avoid. Not only due to politics, but if we win the VI, it will be a British victory leaving Italy free to go after LOH.” Michel was also confronted with another dispatch allegedly sent by him to another top executive of AgustaWestland on August 28, 2009. The dispatch read: “When the CNC informs you formally that you are not L1(lowest tender) we should launch our attack. The purpose will be to have IAI and Tata disqualified and investigated.”

In response to ED’s accusation that the said dispatch pointed to “dubious tactics” adopted by him in securing VVIP helicopter deal, Michel claimed that the dispatch did not relate to the VVIP helicopter deal.

“This fax is not about VVIP but about airport refurbishment. Israeli aircraft industry was fighting against Finmeccanica,” he said in his handwritten statement. “Paolo Girasole (then India country head of Finmeccanica) was complaining that IAI was interfering in decision making and wanted to know what to do to make people follow the rules.” Michel has said: “This was not being dubious, but me explaining to Paolo how to have people follow rules. Paolo thought it was deal fixing. I was not involved. Was only giving a friend advice.”

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