A Delhi court hearing the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case on Saturday imposed restrictions on alleged middleman Christian Michel meeting his lawyers in Enforcement Directorate custody after the agency said that he was misusing legal access by passing chits to the advocates asking them how to tackle questions on “Mrs Gandhi’.
In its application seeking extension of Michel’s remand, the Enforcement Directorate also claimed that he has spoken about the “son of an Italian lady” and how he is going to become the next prime minister of the country.
The ED also sought that Michel be barred from meeting his lawyer during its custody, alleging that he was tutored from outside through his lawyers.
The agency told the court that Michel had made a reference to ‘Mrs Gandhi’ during interrogation on December 27. During medical examination, the accused had handed over a folded paper to his advocate Aljo K Joseph and it was noticed by ED officials. After perusal of the paper, it was revealed that it pertained to a set of follow-up questions on ‘Mrs Gandhi’.
Though the agency did not make any clear reference Sonia Gandhi, the Congress on Saturday hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre, accusing it of using agencies to put pressure on Michel to “name a particular family” as elections were near and it has no real issues.
The ED told the court that it is clear that there is a conspiracy to shield or to tamper with the evidence that could be brought forth from the questioning of the accused. “The benefit given by the court to the accused of legal access is being misused. It should be stopped henceforth,” the agency said.
The court directed that the three defence counsel will be able to meet Michel one at a time at a distance from the accused and legal assistance will be only for 15 minutes at 10 am and at 5 pm during a day.
The direction came after Michel was produced before vacation judge Chandrashekhar, who extended his ED custody by seven days.
Michel’s custody was required for “unearthing the deep-rooted conspiracy and identification of all his accomplices including the Indian Air Force officials, ministry of defence officials, bureaucrats and politicians who gained undue advantage for getting the contract in favour of AgustaWestland,” the ED said in the remand application.
The accused is trying to introduce new alibis to save himself and his aides who have received/facilitated in laundering of proceeds, it said.
Michel, who was extradited from Dubai recently, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on December 22 and sent to seven days custody of the agency over money laundering charges in the scam after he was produced in a court.
He was earlier lodged in Tihar Jail in the related CBI case.
The CBI has alleged that he was paid a huge bribe amount by AugustaWestland which was given to the officers of Indian Air Force, MOD, bureaucrats, politicians and a family in India for showing favour in VVIP Helicopter deal.
It alleged that an amount of €42.27 million was paid by Westland Group companies to the firms of accused as kickbacks.
Michel is among the three alleged middlemen being probed in the case by the ED and the CBI. The others are Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
The CBI has alleged there was an estimated loss of €398.21 million - about Rs 2,666 crore - to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010 for the supply of VVIP choppers worth €556.262 million.
The ED, in its chargesheet filed against Michel in June 2016, had alleged that he received €30 million - about Rs 225 crore - from AgustaWestland.