AgustaWestland scam ‘middleman’ Christian Michel passing chits to lawyers regarding Sonia Gandhi and ‘R’: ED

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate on Saturday told a Delhi court that alleged middleman Christian Michel, arrested in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case, was misusing the liberty of legal assistance during his interrogation by passing chits to his lawyers asking how to tackle questions on Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.

The agency also told the court that he has named Congress’s Sonia Gandhi while in their custody and spoke about “the son of the Italian lady” and how he is going to become “the next prime minister of the country”, the alleged reference being to Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

Michel, arrested by the Enforcement Directorate over money laundering charges in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, was produced before a special court which extended his ED custody by seven days.

“We need to decipher who is this ‘big man’ referred to as ‘R’ is in the communication between Christian Michel and other people. We need to confront Michel with other people to decipher this,” the Enforcement Directorate told the court.

The probe agency said the British national had handed over a piece of paper while shaking hands with his lawyer. When that paper was checked, it had questions related to Sonia Gandhi, the agency added, and wanted the lawyer’s access to Christian Michel withdrawn. To which the court replied that the lawyer can meet Christian Michel for 15 minutes in the morning and the evening instead of the usual hour-long meet, but will have to maintain a three-feet distance.

The ED said that his custodial interrogation was necessary to unearth the larger conspiracy in the case.

Michel, who was extradited from Dubai recently, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on December 22.

He was earlier lodged in Tihar Jail in the related CBI case.

The 54-year-old is one of the three alleged middlemen being investigated in the VVIP chopper scam for allegedly organising bribes for Indian politicians and bureaucrats to push for the AgustaWestland deal, involving 12 luxury choppers, during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.

In 2014, the government scrapped the contract amid allegations that AgustaWestland, whose parent company Finmeccanica faced charges of bribery in Italy, had paid kickbacks in India.

The CBI has alleged there was an estimated loss of 398.21 million Euros (about Rs 2,666 crore) in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010, for the supply of VVIP choppers worth 556.262 million Euros.

The Enforcement Directorate has accused Christian Michel of receiving 30 million Euros (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland as kickbacks.

In July, Christian Michel’s lawyer had alleged that he was being pressured by Indian agencies to frame Sonia Gandhi in return for amnesty from criminal proceedings.

(With agency inputs)