Alleged middleman in the controversial AgustaWestland deal, Christian Michel on Wednesday said he has never met Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh or AK Antony. Michel, in an interview with India Today, said the only person he met with who was involved in the VVIP helicopter deal was former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi. He added that he only “shook hands” with Tyagi and “avoided him” because of his links with Italian businessman Guido Haschke and another alleged middleman.
“I think Tyagi was used as a tool for Haschke to get inside AgustaWestland. I don't think he can play any major role,” Michel said, adding that he couldn’t say there were no kickbacks involved in the deal. While he alleged that Gautam Khaitan – the Delhi-based lawyer being questioned for his involvement in the scam – “is certainly the brain behind the scandal”, Michel did not implicate any Indian leaders, saying that neither the current prime minister, nor former prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, were involved in the case.
The AgustaWestland helicopter deal, which has snowballed into a huge controversy, relates to an agreement in 2010, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was to buy 12 helicopters from the British-Italian firm for around Rs 3,600 crore. The deal was put on hold after Italy arrested the head of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland's parent company, on charges that the firm had paid bribes to win the contract.
Earlier, Michel's lawyer had said he was ready to come to India to face investigators if he was assured he would not be arrested. Michel is one of three alleged middlemen whom Indian investigative agencies suspect brokered the VVIP chopper deal in favour of AgustaWestland.
The Central Bureau of Investigation registered a case against Tyagi and 13 others, including his three cousins and the European middlemen. The agency has been questioning Tyagi and others for their involvement in the scam. It recently said it had tracked down two "suspicious fund transfers" made to Tyagi's bank account.