Agusta: Never met Sonia, Manmohan; Khaitan brain behind deal, says Michel

Christian Michel, one of the middleman in the AgustaWestland chopper deal, has said in an interview to a news channel that he "never met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh" and that neither the Congress nor the present NDA government "interfered in the deal".

In an interview to India Today TV, Michel also said that Delhi-based lawyer Gautam Khaitan, former board member of Aeromatrix, was the brain behind the scandal. He said that the only person he had met related to the Agusta deal was former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi.

The BJP stepped up its attack against the Congress alleging that the Italian court judgment on AgustaWestland helicopter graft case had mentioned names of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Ahmad Patel, and former IAF chief S.P. Tyagi, among others.

Firms Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland, IDS Infotech Ltd (India) and Aeromatrix India are the accused companies booked by the CBI in the First Information Report (FIR) lodged in March 2013 in connection with the AgustaWestland case.

The AgustaWestland case refers to alleged bribery and corruption involving several senior officials and helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland surrounding the purchase of a new fleet of VVIP helicopters by India.

Khaitan, former Aeromatrix board member, and Tyagi were questioned by CBI in recent days.

"No, never. I have never met Sonia Gandhi. Never met Manmohan Singh or (former defence minister) A.K. Antony. Congress never interfered in the Agusta deal. I avoid meeting leaders, my expertise is implementation," Michel told the TV news channel, which tracked him down in Dubai.

"Modi government has never interfered in the deal," he added.

"Gautam Khaitan is certainly the brain behind the scandal. He was responsible for moving the money. He knows everything," he said.

He said that to even imagine leaders like former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh involved in the deal was "ridiculous".

"I think Indian leaders did their job. But to say that a man like Vajpayee, Dr Manmohan Singh or A.K. Antony is involved is ridiculous. No one would believe that," added Michel.

On meeting former IAF chief Tyagi, Michel said: "I probably met S.P. Tyagi in Gymkhana Club. I met Tyagi and others, but I wasn't keen on them.

"I think Tyagi was used as a tool for (another middlemen Guido) Haschke to get inside AgustaWestland. I don't think he can play any major role. I can't say there were no kickbacks," he added.

Asked about the allegations made by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, Michel said: "Subramanian Swamy has been misled on Agusta specifics. He has authenticated (documents) what was given in the CAG report.

"The CAG report was prepared in great hurry as the deal was always blowing away. They (CAG) are not aviation experts and they are bureaucrats asked to put together documents way beyond their expertise," said Michel.