NEW DELHI: For all his professions of innocence, British middleman Christian Michel claims to have spearheaded a big attempt to “virtually engage the entire UPA cabinet” to swing the VVIP chopper deal for Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, now known as Leonardo.

The CBI has accessed a fax message allegedly sent by him to AgustaWestland’s then senior vice-president for international business Giacomo Saponaro in January 2010 in which he claimed that he had to overcome the resistance put up by the then finance secretary who, according to him, was sympathetic to the “Russian lobby”.

Michel claimed he had to “virtually engage the entire UPA cabinet” to neutralise the lobbying on behalf of the US (for Sikorsky S-92 helicopter) and Russia (Mi-172), for IAF’s order for 12 choppers for its VIP squadron.

The fax dispatch, received by the CBI from Italy, shows Michel was allegedly able to track the movement of files real time in the finance and defence ministries, even before the defence minister. A K Antony was defence minister at the time.

He assured his paymasters at Agusta that he had negotiated the deal despite the obstacles by organising a “very high-level intervention”. He confidently informed Saponaro that the cabinet should clear the contract in their favour by the end of the week, despite the pushback from the Americans and the Russians as well as the finance secretary’s reservations on pricing.

The Cabinet Committee on Security led by then PM Manmohan Singh had cleared the proposal for 12 VVIP helicopters in AgustaWestland’s favour on January 18, 2010. CBI officials suspect Michel had sent this fax dispatch from his Mumbai office just before the final decision.

The Russian lobby, according to Michel, had a strong connection with the then finance secretary. The finance secretary’s office, Michel claimed, was sending negative messages, suggesting that the finance ministry did not support the deal. The middleman, accused of bribing Indian politicians, bureaucrats and IAF officials, warned that Russia’s deal was on behalf of a government enterprise and hence didn’t require any integrity pact or bid bond and the solution was “much cheaper”.

In his communication to Saponaro, Michel claimed that when the defence ministry received the finance secretary’s notation on file, they decided that this had gone too far. He told Saponaro that the finance secretary had not discussed the matter with his minister and was trying to stop the file from going to the CCS.

In what further showed Michel’s knowledge about future meetings and decisions, he told Saponaro that finance ministry’s concerns would be sent on “Friday” to the defence minister, who would then meet the finance minister to “sort this out” and “end the dispute”.

CBI sources said Michel had given vague answers on the fax dispatch during his questioning over the last 14 days.

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