New Delhi: In 2007, under the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, a deal was inked to procure 12 luxury choppers for India’s top leaders, both past and present.
Once the deal was underway, Christian Michel made several trips to India, working as a middleman using his network in the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Union defence ministry, which included retired and serving IAF officials.
Before Michel emerged as a key player in the AgustaWestland deal, he had served as a “historic consultant" to AgustaWestland and Westland Helicopters in the UK. He had made use of his technical and operational knowledge of the aircraft, and the military bases and the pilots, to land the job.
Senior investigators at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said that Michel had worked with Westland Helicopters Ltd (WHL), UK, since the 1980s, taking up the mantle from his father, Wolfgang Max Richard Michel, who had also served as a consultant to AgustaWestland, UK, for the Indian Territory.
According to the CBI, Wolfgang Michel, too, had been a mediator for defence deals with other countries during the 1980s, primarily promoting three companies—Entera Corporation, UCM International Trading Ltd and Ferro-Imports Ltd.
Entera Corporation, reportedly, had earned over £2 million from India between 1987 and 1996.
“Christian Michel James was a frequent visitor to India and was operating as a middleman. He was tracking the movements of the procurement process files, and was sending periodical reports and despatches on the developments to the accused persons connected with AgustaWestland," said a senior CBI official, requesting anonymity. “He shared the information collected from IAF and MoD (ministry of defence) with his associates, who used to transmit the despatches through FAX to their counterparts in Italy and Switzerland."
At regular intervals, James informed the management of Finmeccanica (Agusta’s parent company) and AgustaWestland, Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini, respectively, on the progress of the VVIP helicopter supply contract.
Only in 2012 did the centre identify his role as the alleged middleman who was “swinging the deal in favour of AgustaWestland and making illegal payments—commissions and kickbacks—to Indian authorities".
An initial investigation by the Italian authorities into the irregularities in the chopper deal in 2014, indicted Michel for alleged offences of international bribery and corruption, following which the CBI took up the investigation in 2015. Subsequently, the agency issued a non-bailable warrant against Michel.
“Soon after, he escaped from India and has been deliberately evading his presence from the investigating agency and also the due process of law in India. Hence, an open non-bailable arrest warrant was issued on 24 September, 2015, by the special judge, CBI cases, Patiala House Court, New Delhi, and he was subsequently mentioned in the first charge sheet filed in 2017," the CBI official added.