An Interpol Red Corner notice against Christian James Michel tells you how he looks - oval-faced with a prominent nose and a receding hairline, and seemingly uneasy in a formal coat-tie attire.
But it does not describe what the 54-year-old absconding British businessman does for a living.
Michel is in the public’s gaze amid the row triggered after the names of five Congress leaders, including party chief Sonia Gandhi, and UPA II functionaries figured in a judgment by an Italian court which sent Finmeccanica’s former CEO Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland ex-head Bruno Spagnolini to jail for false accounting and corruption in the sale of 12 VVIP choppers to India.
AgustaWestland allegedly paid more than Rs 375 crore as bribe to secure the Rs 3,727-crore contract to supply the 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force.
The Red Corner notice, issued last November on the request of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probing Michel’s role in bribing Indians for swinging a deal for the AgustaWestland choppers, does not reveal his alleged access to power elites or effectiveness at what he does, liaisoning.
Michel is among three non-Indian middlemen who were accused by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) in their separate probes of taking commissions worth €70 million from AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defence giant Finmeccanica, to bribe Indians who helped “ink the deal,” as an investigator put it.
They were accused of ensuring that key technical specifications – including the requirement related to the optimum height at which choppers can fly and the cabin height – were tweaked by then government authorities in a manner that let AW bag the contract in 2010 pipping American-Russian rivals.
ED’s probe found that out of the total commissions, €30 million was paid to the Dubai-based Michel and his group of firms as “service contracts” while the rest was paid to two other middlemen, Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
A Milan court, that found corruption in the AW-India deal, in its April 7 order however said Michel cornered €44 million (around Rs 330 crore) out of the total commission paid and the same was “completely disproportionate” to the work he did for the choppers’ manufacturers.
Indian investigators belonging to ED and CBI, however, suspected that Michel allegedly appropriated over €30 million out of a total of €70 million paid to the three non-Indian middlemen to bribe their way to the contract.
Here is a look at the man and his work.
1) Evidence acquired from the Italian court by ED corroborated allegations that the choppers’ British maker, UK firm AW Limited, had paid commissions to Michel by camouflaging them to clinch the 2010 deal. The evidence shared with ED included a record of email correspondence dated March 5, 2008, between Michel and the firm’s then CEO John Grandy. Michel allegedly told Grandy that he had a group of companies providing promotional services for the UK firm that “could be paid monthly in connection with the signature of AW’s first new major contract in India.”
2) It is suspected that the commission was paid via two service contracts with Michel’s firms. Indian probes found that AW Ltd allegedly paid Michel the commission via several of his firms, including the Dubai-based Global Services FZE.
3) ED and CBI suspect that Michel’s two other firms, Media Exim and Moorbank East India, could have handled the commission paid to him. For AW Ltd, Media Exim carried out functions including “press services, Indian market analyses and local support in the office in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore” according to the Italian record shared with ED. Moorbank, a Singapore-based consulting firm, was in charge of providing assistance with the offset agreement (post-contract) entered into with the Indian government as part of the deal.
4) The probe revealed that the three middlemen, including Michel, transmitted a portion of their commission to India via a circuitous route for bribing influential people. For “generating kickbacks”, the middlemen tied up with two accused Indian firms that provided IT software to AW Ltd but charged a Tunisian intermediary firm at the rate of €14 per man- hour. Without doing any value-addition to the software, the Tunisian firm charged AW at the rate of €34 per man-hour and in all, got paid €5.10 lakh on a monthly basis for a few years. The Tunisian firm then paid the Indian firms.
5) ED attached certain assets allegedly associated with Michel in India last March. These assets were linked to the 2010 commission paid by AW LTD to him. The attached assets worth several crores included a posh south Delhi flat, a luxury car, a fixed deposit of Rs 54 lakh, paintings and jewellery. ED is working to identify more assets of Michel.
6) The ministry of external affairs has rejected Michel’s allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in September 2015.
7) An open-ended non-bailable arrest warrant was issued by a CBI court against Michel in September last year. The CBI also sent a request for his “provisional arrest” for the purpose of extradition to UK authorities in January this year.
8) Before Michel and the other two middlemen – Italians Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa – got into the act, AW choppers had only a bleak chance of measuring to requirements of the Indian contract. Since it could fly only at the optimum height of 4,500 m and not the required 6,000 m, AW’s bid had allegedly been rejected twice by Indian authorities before the condition was eased. It was also alleged that the AW was selected despite the fact that only its representative version had attended the mandatory flight evaluation tests.