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VVIP chopper scam: Who is James Christian Michel?

According to reports, Michel's now-deceased father Wolfgang Max Richard Michel was also allegedly involved in deals of a dubious nature

Vvip Chopper Scam

BS Web Team  |  New Delhi 

AgustaWestland AW101 (Source: PTI)
AgustaWestland AW101 (Source: PTI)

James Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, has offered himself up for interrogation by Indian authorities in an interview with The Hindu.

According to reports, the Indian government has asked Britain to extradite Michel.

Michel's name has been thrown up again since reports on the recent judgement, in the case related to the scam, by the Italian Court of Appeals cited a note from a middleman reportedly describing Congress President Sonia Gandhi as the "driving force" behind the chopper deal.

The Bharatiya Janata Party lost no time in latching on to the note and mounted a political offencive against Gandhi. In no time, battle-lines were drawn and the issue seems to only be escalating.

Responding to the allegations, Gandhi has said that she is not "afraid as there is no base" and that "all the allegation are false".

For his part, Michel has finally spoken about the matter candidly.

Earlier this year, the Telegraph and Outlook India magazine reported that Michel had accused the current Indian government of "offering Italy the freedom" of the two marines accused of killing Indian fishermen in exchange for information linking Sonia Gandhi and her family to the chopper scam.

Michel has made these claims, according to the reports, in a letter to the International Tribunal of the Law of the Seas in Hamburg and the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Most interestingly, according to The Hindu, in November last year, Michel had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the matter.

According to the report, Michel expressed his disappointment over the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) reopening a case against him in September that year.

Additionally, in the letter, Michel said: "The submission claimed that I had received 30 million Euros consultancy for AW 101 helicopters. This is an incorrect statement."

According to the report, he also expressed his willingness to be "interviewed" by the CBI and ED outside India.

But, who is James Christian Michel?

The 54-year-old absconding British businessman is one of the three middlemen allegedly involved in the scam revolving around payment of bribes to secure an Indian contract for twelve AW-101 helicopters worth euro 556 million (currently Rs 4,195 crore).

While Michel told The Hindu that he was a victim of a "political conspiracy", his, and the names of his relatives, have come up in relation to other incidents of dubious nature.

According to The Economic Times, Michel's now-deceased father, the German-born Wolfgang Max Richard Michel, figured in a 2003 investigation by The Guardian. The investigation said that he had acted as a mediator between former Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and Britain's Labour Party. The elder Michel had reportedly been involved in a deal wherein a biography of Gaddafi would be published in the UK and in return the country's defence major, BAE Systems, would receive lucrative contracts from Libya. According to the ET report, the plan never materialised.

Records with the UK's Companies House, according to the ET report, show that Wolfgang Michel promoted three companies - Entera Corporation, UCM International Trading Limited and Ferro-Imports Limited.

Additionally, according to the report, between 1987 and 1996, "Entera Corporation earned more than £2 million from India, recorded on its books as charges for 'engineering consultancy' or 'industrial consultancy'.

The report added that Christian Michel served as the chairman and sole director of the company during this time. Also according to ET, in 2003, Wolfgang Michel had told The Guardian that he had "negotiated legitimate sales of civil aircraft to India".

Entera Corporation went bankrupt in 2004, "with more than £1.3 million in debt", said the report. Additionally, Christian Michel was barred from doing business in the UK for seven years, the report added. This, said the report, "is when he appears to have shifted base to Dubai, where he floated Global Services FZE".

Michel seems to have kept to Dubai ever since. The Business Standard, in an October, 2015, report had said that Indian investigative agencies had traced Christian Michel to Dubai and were studying the bilateral extradition treaty between the United Arab Emirates and India to get his custody.

What are the allegations against him?

Michel is among three non-Indian middlemen, who, according to a Hindustan Times report, were accused by the CBI and ED in their separate probes "of taking commissions worth €70 million from AgustaWestland" to bribe Indian officials who helped “ink the deal”.

According to a report filed by Italian investigators in an Italian court, the middlemen had agreed for a 7.5% commission in the deal.

The payment of bribes through contracts between firms registered in Tunisia and India, was "still underway" when the scam was unearthed.

The report revealed that Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini, then-CEOs of Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland, respectively, had paid 30 million Euros (Rs 217 crore) to Christian Michel.

According to the HT report, the three middlemen, including Michel, are accused of having key technical specifications – the requirement related to the optimum height at which choppers can fly and the cabin height – "tweaked" by Indian authorities so as to allow AgustaWestland to bag the contract.

In fact, the report cited evidence acquired form the Italian court by the ED to state that AgustaWestland paid Michel's commission through his firm Global Services FZE, among others.

For his part, Michel, in his recent interview with The Hindu, stated categorically that the documents used in the Italian court to prove his guilt were "clearly forged". Michel added that the documents were not even in his handwriting, "and then there were affidavits proving I wasn’t even present at the meetings".

Michel also told The Hindu clearly, "It is my greatest fortune that I have never met a Gandhi."

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First Published: Fri, April 29 2016. 11:25 IST