The Enforcement Directorate on Thursday told a Delhi court that kickbacks were paid to defence officials, bureaucrats, mediapersons and important political leaders of the “then-ruling party” in the AgustaWestland VVIP choppers deal case. The probe agency added that Christian Michel James, the alleged middleman arrested in the case, identified abbreviated like “AP’’ as Ahmed Patel and “Fam’’ as Family,” reported NDTV.
The probe agency mentioned these in its fourth supplementary chargesheet filed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act in the case. The chargesheet was also filed against firms Global Services FZE and Global Traders, and David Sims, who is the director of the two companies along with Michel. There are 41 accused in the case, reported The Indian Express.
In its chargesheet, the probe agency listed a series of dispatches between February 2008 and October 2009 by the alleged middleman. “The contents of these dispatches have further proved that political elite was constantly helping AgustaWestland by intervention through PMO and Defence Minister… Lobbying was done to put pressure on finance minister and his senior advisors,” said the agency.
“Christian Michel James has further disclosed various abbreviations used in the budget sheet, which contains the details of the payments made to Air Force officials, bureaucrats and political persons,” said the Enforcement Directorate. “The recipients of the kickback include several categories of persons namely Air Force officials, bureaucrats including defence ministry officials and top political leaders of the then-ruling party. As per Christian Michel James [the alleged middleman arrested in the case], ‘’AP’’ means Ahmed Patel and ‘’Fam’’ means Family.”
Ahmed Patel could refer to the senior Congress leader, but it is unclear whether it does. The Congress veteran has not been named in the FIR filed in the case.
Special judge Arvind Kumar said the court will take cognisance of the chargesheet on April 6.
The former Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had signed the Rs 3,565-crore helicopter deal in 2010 with the British-Italian firm AgustaWestland. The deal was put on hold after Italy arrested the head of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland’s parent company, on charges of paying bribes to win the contract. Christian Michel was extradited to India in January and is now lodged in Tihar Jail.
‘Laughable’, ‘cheap stunt’
The Congress rejected the references to its leaders, calling it a “cheap election stunt”. “A single uncertified page leaked by ED of a purported chargesheet is a cheap election stunt to divert attention from imminent defeat of the Modi government,” said Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala. “[The] ED has become “Election Dhakosla” of a government manufacturing a lie a day. All these rehashed insinuations and lies were bundled out earlier too through a set of pliable media. Ultimately, they failed in an international court and were rejected as trash. Come election season and a panic-stricken Modi government is using the same set of lies to reset a narrative that they have already lost.”
Journalist Shekhar Gupta whose name also features in the chargesheet called it “laughable and utterly preposterous”. “The claim in the Enforcement Directorate chargesheet against Christian Michel, a key suspect in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal scam, that Michel had admitted to hiring the services of a person named Guy Douglas to influence Shekhar Gupta to tone down an article in The Indian Express, is 100% untruth,” he said.
“The truth is the exact opposite. The Indian Express, under the leadership of Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, broke the story first, was at the forefront of the media investigation into the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal scam and was widely commended for its coverage,” he added. “The timing of the lie by an alleged middleman, extradited into the custody of government agencies as an eventual outcome of the media investigation, raises deep suspicions about its motive.”
Another journalist named in the chargesheet, Manu Pubby said his reports between 2012-’14 are the “backbone of the CBI/ED chargesheet in the Agusta case”. The Enforcement Directorate in its chargesheet mentioned that Michel said Pubby “toned down” his articles on the case.