Congress on Thursday accused the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government of forcing British businessman Christian Michel, the middleman named in the AgustaWestland scam, to frame Sonia Gandhi in exchange for being exonerated.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “Never before in the history of India has a prime minister been found complicit in gaining ‘false evidence’ against opposition leaders to seek revenge.”
Surjewala was referring to statements by Michel’s lawyer Rosemary Patrizi and his sister Sasha Ozeman to India Today that Indian investigators were forcing him to frame Gandhi. “This is what they have said, if you tell us that you met Mrs Gandhi, you had something to do with her, you sign this paper, you will be free. That’s what they want him to do but he did not,” Patrizi said.
Ozeman told India Today that Michel has been under detention for the last 40 days in Dubai. The Indi Today report said that the Enforcement Directorate has reportedly mentioned Michel’s name in a chargesheet submitted to a court in the United Arab Emirates. According to the chargesheet, Michel used a Dubai-based firm Global Services FZE to launder bribes, the report said. Michel has denied allegations that he was involved in the scam.
Michel’s sister Ozeman agreed with Patrizi. “They want him to admit that he knows Sonia Gandhi, but he does not. They want him to admit that he is helping these people, these very big politicians, but he is not. He is just trying to clear his own name,” Ozeman was quoted as saying by India Today. “They want him to confess to all those things, but it’s not true. And he refuses to. So they are holding him in prison. And he said it is the Indians who were doing it. He didn’t mention the UAE.”
These statements, Surjewala said on Thursday, brought out that the Centre was trying to implicate Sonia Gandhi in the case. “Stunning revelations have blown the lid off the ‘concerted conspiracy’, ‘blind vendetta’ and ‘web of lies’ weaved by the ‘Master of Deception’ – Shri Narendra Modi against the Congress leadership in AgustaWestland Case,” he said.
He added: “‘Mudslinging’, ‘muckraking’ and ‘hatchet job’ being enacted by Modi Govt and its ‘Dirty Tricks Department’ i.e CBI/ED, to smear opposition leaders is out in the open for the nation to see and adjudge.”
CBI denies allegations
The Central Bureau of Investigation on Friday denied the allegations and said that the agency had not questioned Michel any time this year, The Indian Express reported. The CBI said Michel was arrested in February 2017 by the UAE, and not this year as his lawyer has claimed.
“CBI team has not examined the fugitive Christian Michel James nor has it influenced him to extract a confession,” the CBI told The Indian Express. “The extradition proceedings against the fugitive is going on in UAE and the request for the extradition is being followed up.”
The AgustaWestland scam
The AgustaWestland helicopter deal, which had snowballed into a huge controversy, is related to an agreement signed in 2010 to buy 12 helicopters from the Italian firm. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was in power at the time. The deal was put on hold after Italy arrested the head of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland’s parent company in 2013 on charges of corruption.
On December 9, 2016, the CBI had arrested former Air Force chief SP Tyagi and two others for allegedly accepting kickbacks to influence the purchase of the 12 VVIP helicopters. The CBI had said the deal was worth Rs 3,767 crore, of which 12% was paid in bribes. Tyagi was granted bail on December 26, 2016, while the others got it on January 4, 2017.
In May 2016, the CBI had said two suspicious payments were made to accounts held by the former Air Force chief. The agency also learnt that Tyagi was an owner or shareholder in at least five different companies. He retired from his post in the Air Force in 2007.