By Anand Singh
New Delhi, Dec 5 (IANS) British national Christian Michel James, the middleman wanted in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case who was extradited to India on Tuesday night, has been questioned for a few hours and his interrogation will be intensified now as the court has placed him under custody for five days.
A senior Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official, related to the probe, told IANS, “James was not questioned on Tuesday night after his arrival from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to India.” After he was brought to the agency’s headquarters late in the night after being extradited from Dubai, Michel complained of “tiredness”, he said.
A local court on Wednesday remanded Michel to five days CBI custody. He was extradited to India after the Court of Cassation in UAE had on November 19 upheld a lower court order which said that James could be extradited.
Asked about reports that Michel was non-cooperative and showing an aggressive behaviour during questioning, the official replied: “There is no chance of aggressiveness or non-cooperation from Michel on Tuesday night and on Wednesday noon as he has not been intensively questioned by us.”
“We only had an interactive session,” he said, adding, “what he says will be analysed during these five days of the police custody that we have got from the court.”
The official also claimed that the agency has enough evidence against Michel and he would be confronted with the other accused.
He also said that AgustaWestland money amounting to 37 million Euros (approximately Rs 300 crore) was transferred to two bank accounts based in Dubai. “We want to know where and to whom the money went from here,” he said.
Michel woke up around 7 a.m. on Wednesday and had fruits for breakfast while he was served Indian food for lunch which he accepted without any complaint.
Michel is one of the three accused being probed in the case by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the VVIP chopper scam.
In January, the ED had lodged a request with the UAE authorities for extraditing James. Both the ED and the CBI had filed chargesheets in bribery cases in Indian courts and non-bailable warrants had been issued against the accused.
Last year, a Red Corner notice was issued against Michel by the Interpol on a request by the CBI. RCNs were also issued against two Italians involved in the scam — Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke.
According to Indian investigative agencies, Michel had received at least Rs 235 crore for ensuring that the chopper contract went to AgustaWestland. He was a frequent visitor to India, having undertaken 300 trips to this country between 1997 and 2013.
In its chargesheet, the CBI had named former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi alias Julie, then IAF Vice Chief J.S. Gujral and advocate Gautam Khaitan as the four Indians involved in the scam.
The chargesheet mentioned Khaitan as the “brain” behind the deal.
Others named in the chargesheet include Giuseppe Orsi, the former chief of Italian defence and aerospace major Finmeccanica, and Bruno Spagnolini, former CEO of AgustaWestland, apart from middlemen James, Haschke and Gerosa.
On January 1, 2014, India cancelled the contract with Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF over alleged breach of contractual obligations and on charges of paying kickbacks amounting to Rs 423 crore.
The CBI, which registered an FIR in the case on March 12, 2013, had alleged that Tyagi and the other accused received kickbacks from AgustaWestland to help it win the contract.
(Anand Singh can be contacted at [email protected])