New Delhi: Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel and Sonia Gandhi are named in the Enforcement Directorate chargesheet against Christian Michel, the alleged middleman arrested in the case related to the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal. The chargesheet was filed before a court in Delhi on Thursday. “It is all baseless, ridiculous and an election gimmick,” Ahmed Patel told NDTV on the charges, adding, “I have faith in the judiciary”.
Christian Michel alleged the chargesheet was leaked to the media even before the court took cognisance of it and before serving a copy to the accused. Delhi’s Patiala House Court has issued notice to the Enforcement Directorate, asking how the chargesheet was leaked to the media. The probe agency will reply tomorrow.
The case involves a 3,600-crore contract for the purchase of 12 luxury helicopters to be used by top Indian leaders like the President, Prime Minister, former PMs and other VIPs. The deal with Italy-based helicopter-maker AgustaWestland was signed by the previous Manmohan Singh government in 2007.
Christian Michel, a British national, is one of the three middlemen being investigated over charges of organising bribes to push the deal with decision-makers in India. Extradited from Dubai in December, Christian Michel has said during his questioning that ‘AP’ stands for Ahmed Patel and ‘Fam’ stands for Family in a diary accessed by the Enforcement Directorate.
The code-words relate to the alleged kickbacks of 30 million euros paid to Air Force officials, bureaucrats, defence ministry officials and “top political leaders of the ruling party” at the time, says the charge sheet. The payments were routed through a “complex structure” and withdrawn in cash through the “hawala” route, the Enforcement Directorate alleges.
The Enforcement Directorate charge sheet lists a series of “dispatches” between February 2008 and October 2009 by Christian Michel, including one that mentioned “Mrs Gandhi” as the “driving force” behind the chopper deal.
One dispatch, according to the chargesheet, says “A) Meeting at the beginning of the week with regards to the Italian Lady’s son… The gentleman confirmed that the son will be next Prime Minister and his power in the party is growing day by day. Hence, the Finance Minister’s extreme anxiety at the son’s phenomenal rise.”
The chargesheet alleges that Christian Michel used senior Congress leaders to put pressure on then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The investigators refer to a letter dated August 28, 2009, allegedly written by Michel to one Giuseppe Orsi. Orsi is the former chief of Finmeccania (now Leonardo), the parent company of AgustaWestland.
The supplementary chargesheet runs into 52 pages, along with over 3,000 pages of additional documents. It also names Christian Michel’s business partner David Syms and two companies Global Services FZE, UAE, and Global Trade & Commerce Ltd, apart from the 38 previously named as accused in the case.
The Enforcement Directorate chargesheet comes just days before the national election, for which campaigning is at its peak. The Congress alleges that the chopper investigation has been ramped up in an attempt to target its top leaders in election season, mainly to deflect attention from the Rafale deal controversy.
The BJP says the case could spell “serious trouble” for the “first family” of Congress, referring to its chief Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi.