The net is closing in on British defence agent Christian Michel who is allegedly involved in the AgustaWestland helicopter scam. Until Italian investigators supplied Indian investigators with information on Michel’s travels to New Delhi, the agencies had been totally clueless about the movements of this elusive arms agent. Exclusive investigation details accessed by The Sunday Standard reveal that 52-year-old Michel landed in Delhi on March 7, 2005.
From March 7 on, Michel stayed in Delhi for 4-5 days and returned to Dubai after interacting with his contacts, who the sleuths are now chasing. Again on April 20, he flew in from Dubai and stayed for two days in Delhi before leaving for London. His visits during the crucial phase is important as, according to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry in February this year, the operational requirements were deliberated over meetings held between March 2005, to September 2006. Investigators decoding the pugmarks of Michel confirmed that the reclusive agent made a subsequent trip every month till November 2005. They said his frequent trips to India strongly suggest a quid pro quo in the entire AgustaWestland scandal. The last time Michel flew out of Delhi for Dubai was in the second week of November 2005. One-and-half months later, on January 3, 2006, Defence Acquisition Council accorded the sanction to procure 12 VVIP choppers. The Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued to six vendors, including AgustaWestland, on September 27, 2006.
“Michel never returned to India after November 2005. He simply vanished from the scene. The last information that agencies received was that he attended the funeral of his father Wolfgang Richard Michel in September last year. Although he runs a company Global Services FZE in Dubai, the phone number in official records belongs to a UAE collaborator, Marwan Azzi,” a source said.
Very little is known about Michel that arms deals run in the family—Wolfgang Michel was connected to a vast international network of arms manufacturers. He was involved in several aviation deals including a civil aircraft deal in India. But Michel’s sister Caroline Michel is a well-known book publisher in the UK. According to documents available now with the agencies, in the shady world of arms deals, Michel is significantly bigger than the American-Swiss middleman Guido Ralph Haschke who allegedly laundered 21 million Euros from Augusta’s slush funds account. A key witness in the case, Lorenzo Borogini had alleged that Michel—as official agent in the VVIP chopper deal—and Finmeccanica CEO Orsi shared a strong bond and €10 million out of €30 million paid to Michel was routed back to Orsi for his personal dealing.
According to investigators, Michel had set up a maze of companies to conceal bribe money and illicit payments generated through arms deals. Most of these companies were subsequently dissolved. What is also intriguing is that Italian investigators probing the scams failed to generate intelligence input on Michel despite a year-long investigations and subsequent surveillance on key players including Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
Indian sleuths, however, said they have unearthed Michel’s footprint in India in March 2002 when the first global RFP for choppers was issued by the IAF before it encountered the PMO hurdle. Sources confirmed that Michel was present in Delhi in March and April 2002, before leaving for Tashkent. However, they refused to share more details about subsequent meetings. Now, the CBI is thinking of requesting Interpol to issue a lookout notice for the defence dealer who figures as one of the 13 accused in the FIR lodged by the agency. If Interpol is able to locate him, it would allow the Indian agencies to interrogate him to find out the extent of involvement of various players in the money trail.
The Sunday Standard