VVIP chopper scam: British High Commission, former UK minister played key role, Christian Michel tells ED

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Christian Michel James, an alleged middleman arrested in the Rs 3,600 crore VVIP chopper scam cases, has told the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that a former UK minister and the British High Commission played a pivotal role in accessing classified information from the Indian government which eventually helped AgustaWestland secure the deal.

In a series of statements to the ED, accessed exclusively by ET, Michel named a former UK minister, who he usually referred to as “Boss”, and said the minister and officials of the British High Commission were part of a “team” to ensure the Anglo-Italian company bagged the deal. In response to a query by ED “whether do you (Michel) have any contact with your father’s client”, Michel replied “Mrs Gandi”.

Michel’s statements, in a series of extensive interrogations by the ED from December 2018 onwards, are in his own handwriting in documents which run into nearly 2,300 pages. The statements recorded by the agency under Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) are admissible in law.

The ED has placed the information obtained from Michel in a local court as part of one of its supplementary charge sheets.

Former UK minister, British High Commission

Michel alleged that the former UK minister had a “wealth of contacts” in India. Further, he told the ED, “The British High Commission seemed to have a good grasp of file movements. Why, I don’t know.”

When confronted on dispatches allegedly containing classified information of Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meetings and agenda, Michel told the ED that “the British High Commission somehow always seems to have an idea when the next CCS (will meet) with time and place and what is on the agenda”. He denied any wrongdoing on the part of the British High Commission, though, saying, “It is the job of the High Commission to promote British products.”

Michel said he was trying to have the support of the UK government for AgustaWestland. He said that till March 2008 “the British government to this point had not done enough to vet the British Prime Minister to speak to his counterpart in India”.

In his interrogation, Michel described the VVIP chopper deal “a political endorsement to the winner”. He told the ED that “the team associated with the VVIP deal was rewarded by Agusta for such a big success”.

Documents accessed by ET show that the ED sleuths told Michel that the agency could not find any independent evidence to corroborate Michel’s claims that a former UK Minister or political people in the UK administration and British High Commission officials were involved in accessing classified information from Indian government.

Budget sheet

When confronted with the much debated budget sheet, according to which 30 million euros was paid to Air Force officers, bureaucrats and politicians, Michel said the budget sheet was “complete and utter forgery”. The budget sheet contains entries such as “AP”, “Fam” and “Pol”.

Michel denied that he had dictated it to his co-accused Guido Haschke. He told the ED that “the budget sheet is clearly to sensationalise (Pol) section”. Calling it “fake”, he said “the budget sheet has no merit at all”. On the alleged incriminating dispatches sent by him to AgustaWestland officials sharing classified information, Michel said “dispatches have been taken out of context” and that he had not been in touch with political persons.

Haschke, Tyagi brothers

Throughout his interrogation by the ED, Michel distanced himself from the VVIP chopper deal. He said his role was “only to provide/arrange lodging, boarding and providing secretarial assistance”, according to his statements accessed by ET.

When asked about the “incriminating” dispatches sent by him, Michel said “he was involved only in coordination, communication and management, marketing offset and strategy for the group company”.

Michel pinned the blame on another alleged middleman, Guido Haschke, for resorting to “corrupt means” to influence the VVIP chopper deal. He claimed that kickbacks were paid for the deal by Haschke and that he was “not involved in Haschke’s endeavours”.

Explaining the motive behind engaging former defence officials for collecting information regarding the deal, Michel said, “The rationale behind employing ex defence officers is to tap into their experience, judgment, knowledge of the process and to pick up on industry gossip.”

Michel alleged that the “Tyagi brothers picked up the gossip for Haschke”. When asked who the Tyagis’ go-to person was, he said “the air chief SP Tyagi before and after”. The then Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi is a co-accused in the case.

Michel alleged that the height reduction for VVIP choppers was managed by “Haschke as claimed by him (Haschke) through Tyagi brothers”.

In his interrogation by ED, Michel flatly denied any association with co-accused Rajiv Saxena (accused in the Central Bureau of Investigation’s case); Ratul Puri, nephew of former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath; and Sushen Mohan Gupta, accused in the ED’s case. He said he did not know Saxena, Puri and Gupta.

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