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Feb 17, 2013 at 09:32pm IST

Chopper deal: Middleman's father was close to Cong in 1990s, say sources

New Delhi: The mysterious middleman, Christian Michel, named in the Italian report on the alleged corrupt chopper deal with India, seems to be the key to the Italian defence company AgustaWestland deal payoffs. CNN-IBN has discovered that his father had huge business interests in India and was very close to Congress leaders in the 1990s.

Even though very little is known about him so far, it is clear that his relationship with Indian politicians goes back a long way. CNN-IBN enquiry has revealed there was only one entry on Registrar of Company website in the name of Christian Michel James.

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The entry's Director Identification Number (DIN), 02657302, shows Christian's date of birth as December 12, 1961. DIN number is mandatory for anyone to hold any position as a director of any company in India.

However, the website does not show any other detail about Christian, barring his date of birth. While not much is known about Christian, who has been named as one of the main beneficiaries of the payoffs, Italian newspapers too have reported his date of birth as 1961.

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Christian's father, Michael Wolfgang, had huge business interests in India and was very close to Congress leader in 1990s, according to sources. Christian has inherited a lot of business and political contacts from his father over the past ten years.

Christian has been named as one of the main beneficiaries of kickbacks in the Italian probe report in AgustaWestland deal. A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team is set to leave for Italy on Monday to investigate whether firms were floated in India just to route kickbacks in the Rs 3600 crore VVIP chopper deal with AgustaWestland.

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Official sources said the departure of the team was delayed by a day due to some last-minute formalities which required to be fulfilled before traveling abroad for the purpose of investigation. The team will try to meet Italian prosecutors to ascertain the details of the case, the sources added.

The team comprises a CBI DIG, a law officer of the agency, a Joint Secretary level officer of Defence Ministry and an official of the External Affairs Ministry, the sources said. The decision by the CBI came as it virtually drew a blank from the Defence Ministry in getting some official inputs regarding alleged kickbacks in the case, sources said further.

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The CBI was handed over a letter from the Defence Ministry seeking a probe by it in the case which has triggered a storm in the country. Attached with the letter were some Indian and Italian press clippings, which the CBI said, could not form the basis for registering a case. CBI had sought help of Indian Mission in Rome which, too, has not been able to provide any authenticated court documents to the agency, the sources said.

This was followed by CBI seeking help of Interpol which also expressed inability to provide any help in the absence of any regular case not having been registered by the agency, they said. The Defence Ministry had on Saturday sent a team led by Joint Secretary and an Air Commodore of Indian Air Force, who gave a presentation to the CBI about the tendering procedures and various stages while finalising the helicopter deal with AgustaWestland.

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However, when pressed by the CBI officials about the kickback allegations, the team could not provide any answers to the sleuths, the sources said.

Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN, former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi's cousin, Sanjeev Tyagi, rubbished allegations of his involvement in the tainted AgustaWestland chopper deal. Speaking to IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, Sanjeev, who is mentioned in the Italian probe reports as 'Julie' Tyagi, said that the allegations against him and his cousin SP Tyagi were 'baseless' and had maligned the image of their families.

"I have no links with AgustaWestland. I am not aware of any deal. I did not receive any payment. (Guido Ralph) Haschke is lying. Finmeccanica is trying to cover up its own bungling. The charges are baseless. It is very easy to tarnish someone's reputation, but can the media pay it back?" he said.

Sanjeev revealed that he had met Haschke in 2001 in connection with a power sector deal and that he had known Carlo Gerosa, another middleman in the chopper deal, since 1995 through a deal related to infrastructure sector. He also said that he had met Haschke through Gerosa.

"Haschke sold AgustaWestland a story based on my relationship with (cousin) SP Tyagi. We have strained ties. He (Haschke) used my name to siphon off money. The CBI probe will bring out the truth. I welcome the CBI probe," he said.

"Everyone has fallen for one man's lie. I am painfully surprised the way my family's name is being maligned. I have never ever spoken to my cousin SP Tyagi regarding any deal. From 1999 to 2006, we shared a strained relationship. Perhaps, he (SP Tyagi) met Gerosa at the wedding of my niece. I have not received any payment in cash or in any other form," Sanjeev added.

He also said that he had no dealing with lawyer Gautam Khaitan, a former director at Aeromatrix, and that it was former National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra who had changed the altitude norms of the helicopters.

The scam had unfolded with the arrest on Tuesday of the head of a state-controlled Italian aerospace company that is suspected of paying bribes of about Rs 362 crore in India to get orders for helicopters to ferry Indian VVIPs. The Ministry of Defence has decided to put on hold the receipt of the remaining nine of the 12 helicopters for which the Rs 3600 crore deal was struck in 2010.

Giuseppe Orsi, the head of Italian defence and aerospace giant Finmeccanica, was arrested on Monday in relation to a probe into international corruption. He is suspected of involvement in the payment of bribes regarding the sale helicopters produced by Finmeccanica's subsidiary AgustaWestland.

(With Additional Inputs from PTI)

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