AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal: Middleman Christian Michel James extradited from UAE; All you need to know about the case

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New Delhi | Published: December 5, 2018 2:00:59 PM

Internationally, many countries use these helicopters for the movement of the VVIPs. However, in India, the Rs 3,600-crore 12 AW101 helicopters deal with Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland was cancelled due to bribery allegations in 2013.

Christian Michel James (Image: ANI)

India gets company’s middleman Christian Michel James extradited from UAE in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal.

Internationally, many countries use these helicopters for the movement of the VVIPs. However, in India, the Rs 3,600-crore 12 AW101 helicopters deal with Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland was cancelled due to bribery allegations in 2013.

There were corruption charges against top Indian Air Force officials as well as politicians in this helicopter deal. Christian Michel James and two other middlemen – Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa – were accused of playing a role in getting the Rs 3,600 crore-deal swung in favour of AgustaWestland.

The service ceiling of the VVIP helicopter is one of the features of the probe by the CBI in the AgustaWestland deal. In the original recommendation for buying new VVIP machines, the altitude requirement was 6,000 metres, which was brought down to 4,500 metres allegedly to make AgustaWestland eligible for the deal.

These helicopters were recommended by an expert committee in 1999 for the movement of the VVIPs. During those days the VVIP movement which included the President and the Prime Minister, was in Russian made Mi-8 helicopter.

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Due to the long gestation period as is the case in all defence deals, including the decision-making process the government went ahead to buy these helicopters in 2007 from AgustaWestland (now renamed Leonardo).

According to the CBI, Christian Michel James was a frequent visitor to India and was operating as a middleman. The findings indicate that he kept a track of the file movement from department to department and was the process being followed. And sharing details with his company on regular basis.

It was also found that not only was he meeting with senior Indian Air Force officers, he was also trying to influence those defence ministry officials who were dealing with the file movements.

He had earlier served as a consultant of AgustaWestland and Westland Helicopters, in the United Kingdom, and during that period had gathered a lot of information which was critical in nature related to technologies and the plot histories.

According to the CBI his father Wolfgang Max Richard Michel, had also served as a consultant of AgustaWestland, UK, for the Indian market, and used to act as a mediator for other countries in the 1980s.

His father promoted companies including Entera Corporation, UCM International Trading Ltd and Ferro-Imports Ltd in India.

James has been accused of sending all details he gathered in New Delhi to the parent company Finmeccanica as well as AgustaWestland officials on a daily basis.

In 2012 that the government at the time (UPA) alerted about the role of James playing a role of a middleman in the VVIP helicopter deal and accused him of paying illegal commissions and kickbacks to Indian officials and the former air force chief.

An initial investigation launched by Italian authorities into the irregularities in the chopper deal in 2014 indicted James for offences of international bribery and corruption, after which the CBI took up the investigation in 2015. After which the Indian agency issued a non-bailable warrant (NBW) against him to probe the extent of the kickbacks received by him.

What is the Helicopter all about:

The company website indicates that the AW101 provides a proven platform for heads of state and VVIP operators. It combines the most advanced technologies, safety by design, mission systems and leading-edge manufacturing.

These can be used in a dual role: both for ferrying the VVIPs as well as military aircraft in case need. It can be fitted with two machine guns on either side as well as be bulletproof.

The machine can carry two pilots and additional carry 10 VVIPs in peacetime and during wartime can carry up to 30 military personnel.

These helicopters have the largest cabin in its class and have room for being customised according to the customer’s needs.

These helicopters are powered by 3 General Electric CT7-6 turboshaft engines and have 3 fuel tanks which together can carry 3,222 litres of fuel.

A fully loaded AW101 helicopter can travel the maximum range of 1,389km. And can even fly in high altitudes. They have successfully operated in the most extreme environments from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

The maximum endurance of AW101 is six hours. The aircraft can fly at the maximum speed of 281 kmph. At this speed its flight range is 780km.

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