The CBI Wednesday told a Delhi court that an Italian court order that there was no evidence of corruption in the case relating to AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal was "full of error" and will not hold in Indian courts.
The Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) made this submission in the court which sent Christian Michel, an alleged middleman in the graft-tainted chopper deal, to judicial custody till December 28 after the CBI said he was not required for further custodial interrogation that had lasted 14 days. The court also reserved for December 22 its order on Michel's bail plea. Michel was produced before Special Judge Arvind Kumar on expiry of his 4-day CBI custody--the third spell--and the probe agency said he was not required for further custodial interrogation.
In his bail application, the accused told the court through his advocate Aljo K Joseph that he was cooperating with the investigation throughout last several years and also during his 14-day CBI custody, which ended today. He contended that the CBI was carrying out the proceedings against him with the same facts and the same accusations that the Italian Court had arrived at a finding of acquittal. CBI counsel D P Singh opposed the bail plea, saying the accused was very influential and was capable of hampering the probe, and added there was not enough material from the Indian side before the Italian court.
"The foreign court order is full of error and will not hold in Indian courts. It considers all the conspiracy, offence, but does not reach any conclusion. It was also not based on documents supplied by Indian authorities," Singh said. "Neither there was enough material from Indian side, nor help was sought from or given by the Indian authorities. They were prosecuted and convicted earlier but later got acquitted only on technicalities."
On January 8, the Italian court acquitted former Finmeccanica president Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini on charges of illegal payment in the deal to sell 12 AW101 helicopters to India. Both are accused in the present case filed by the CBI. The CBI submitted that if granted bail, Michel may flee the country as he already tried to escape from Dubai just before the extradition to India early this month. In his bail plea, Michel also sought leniency from the court on the ground he was suffering from dyslexia. Singh said the accused was facing prosecution in Italy, the UK and India.
"He(Michel) did not join probe in these countries but issued press statement which was all propaganda. He was unreachable. He has not come here by himself but has been brought," the CBI said, adding that dyslexia had nothing to do with the bail plea. Michel was arrested in the UAE and extradited to India on December 4. The next day, he was produced before the court, which allowed his five-day custodial interrogation by the CBI. It was extended by five more days, and later for another four days.
In the bail application, the accused claimed: "The CBI questioned the accused at Dubai for more than four hours in February 2017 and in June 2018 on three occasions. During this interrogation, the accused had already handed over sufficient documents and materials to the officials. This shows the complete cooperation of the accused/applicant towards the investigation process. "Even after landing in India, during these days of CBI's custodial interrogation, the accused has fully cooperated and is still ready to cooperate while he is enlarged on bail."
The application added that despite being a party to the Italian proceedings, the Indian government initiated a proceeding for the same facts and against the same defendants in India. "On December 4, the UAE extradited Michel to India to face a proceeding, with the same facts and accusations that the Italian court had arrived at while acquitting others. "Even though the acquittal was relating to other accused, the Italian judgment was in relation to the same transaction and it had relevant paragraphs analyzing the present accused," the accused said, adding that he was in the custody of the UAE police for a long time.
He claimed that further investigation by the CBI has not revealed any incriminating material against him or to prove any allegations in the charge sheet. He told the court he supplied all the documents pertaining to the transactions to the CBI on earlier occasions to prove his innocence, but the agency was not willing to take any of those documents on record. "The accused is ready and willing to cooperate with the investigation under any conditions on bail," the application said. Singh contended that Michel has high links in ministries, with people in politics, bureaucracy, many of whom are witnesses in the case.
"We brought him with so much difficulty. Some new facts have emerged and we need to have follow ups on those. He has not been a cooperative witness. A lot more to be unearthed. He has no roots in India here. He has property here but he may sell them and go away," he said. In September 2015, the Indian Authorities issued an arrest warrant against Michel and had applied a Red Corner Notice through INTERPOL, against him. Meanwhile, the court also sought CBI's reply by December 22 on a plea of co-accused and former Air Chief S P Tyagi, seeking permission to go the US. Michel is among the three alleged middlemen being probed in the case by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the CBI. The others are Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
The CBI has alleged there was an estimated loss of Euro 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 Euro 556.262 million. The ED, in its charge sheet filed against Michel in June 2016, had alleged that he received EUR 30 million (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland.