Christian Michel passed chits to his lawyer for help on questions about ‘Mrs Gandhi’ during probe: ED tells court
A Delhi court hearing the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case on Saturday imposed restrictions on alleged middleman Christian Michel meeting his lawyers in ED custody after the agency said that he was misusing legal access by passing chits to the advocates asking them how to tackle questions on “Mrs Gandhi”.Updated: Dec 29, 2018 23:43 IST
A Delhi court on Saturday remanded Christian Michel, the suspected middleman in the AugustaWestland bribery case, to another seven days in the Enforcement Directorate’s custody and imposed restrictions on him meeting lawyers after the agency said he was misusing legal access by handing them notes on how he should deal with questions on a “Mrs Gandhi”.
Saturday’s proceedings before a vacation judge in the Patiala House courts triggered a furious verbal battle between the Congress and the BJP, with the former accusing the BJP-led government of misusing agencies to smear the Gandhi family and the latter demanding an explanation from the opposition party.
Extending Michel’s remand by seven days, vacation judge Chandrashekhar said 3 defence counsel would be allowed to meet him one at a time, at a distance from the suspect, and legal counsel would be limited to 15 minutes at 10am and at 5pm during a day. The ED had sought to bar Michel’s access to lawyers, which had hitherto been limited to 30 minutes in morning and evening.
ED counsel D P Singh claimed in the court.that Michel, a British national extradited to India from Dubai in connection with allegations of bribery in the Rs 3,600 crore deal with AugustaWestland to purchase 12 helicopters to ferry around VVIPs, had in a written answer named a certain “Mrs Gandhi”, mentioned a certain “son of the Italian lady who could be the Prime Minister”, and later misused his access to a lawyer to seek advice on how to answer follow-up questions.
Detailing how Michel had misused his daily access to a lawyer, the ED in the remand application said: “During the medical examination Christian Michel James stood up and turned towards his advocate… and acted like he was shaking his hand. Michel secretly handed over a folded paper to his counsel.”
When the paper was checked, “it pertained to a set of questions with regard to follow-up questions on Mrs Gandhi. It is clear that there is a conspiracy to shield and/or tamper (with) the evidence that could be brought forth from the questioning of the accused,” ED counsel Singh said. He also told the court that in communications between Michel and others there was a reference to a “certain big man” referred to as “R” which needs to be investigated.
The agency did not explain in what context Michel, 57, made those mentions.
“In what context the name was taken hasn’t been told to the court, but the court was shown the paper,” Singh later said.
In 2010, India signed the agreement to buy the AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters. In 2013, Italian officials arrested Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of AgustaWestland’s parent company, and said there were irregularities in the deal. Soon after, then defence minister AK Antony ordered a probe. In 2014, India scrapped the deal.
There were allegations the kickbacks for the deal were as much as Rs 423 crore and Michel was accused of facilitating the bribes. According to the charges filed against him by the ED in 2016, he allegedly received Rs 225 crore from the firm.
The Congress accused the BJP-led government of using its agencies to put pressure on Michel to name a particular family in the case as general elections were nearing and it had no real issues.
Congress spokesperson RPN Singh said: “We have seen what the BJP has been doing in this matter. In fact, one of the television channels showed how there is pressure on Christian to name a particular family.”
On the ED’s claim that Michel had spoken about the “son of an Italian lady” and how he was going to become the next prime minister of the country, Singh said, “The BJP scriptwriters are working overtime.”
The Congress and its president Rahul Gandhi have been targeting the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over alleged irregularities in the Rs 59,000 crore deal to purchase 36 French-made Rafale fighter planes.
Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Ravi Shankar Prasad hit out at Rahul Gandhi. Prasad accused him of showering Prime Minister Modi with abuse and asserted that “today is the time for the Gandhi family to explain” following the Enforcement Directorate’s statement in court.
“The ED’s disclosure in the court has made it clear that truth can no longer be suppressed. The truth about the Congress and Sonia Gandhi and Rahul is coming out before the people. The people will give the Congress a befitting reply,” Javadekar said.
First Published: Dec 29, 2018 18:32 IST