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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

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Indian 'VVIP' Helicopter Scandal: The British Connection

A London-based consultant was paid £26 million as part of the £500 million Indian ‘VVIP helicopter’ deal at the centre of a bribery scandal.  

 

Italian prosecutors have described Christian Michel, 52, as a “key middleman” in the 2009 transaction, which saw the Indian Air Force purchase 12 AgustaWestland helicopters from Italian industrial giant Finnmeccanica.

 

The then Indian Air Chief Marshall SP Tyagi, along with three relatives are alleged to have received payments from Finnemeccanica to secure the deal.

 

Finnmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi resigned Friday (15) after being arrested over the scandal earlier this week.

 

 

Court documents reveal Mr Michel – acting on behalf of AgustaWestland – had “funneled through brothers Juli Tyagi, Docsa Tyagi and Sandeep Tyagi unaccounted for sums of money to Marshall SP Tyagi, the head of the Indian Air Force from 2004 to 2007, to carry out an act contrary to his official duty”.

 

Marshall Tyagi has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.  

 

The Indian government, however, has frozen further payments to Finnmeccanica until an investigation into the scam is completed.

 

Three of the AW101 12 helicopters – specially designed to ferry around ‘VVIP’s’ such as the President and Prime Minister – have already been delivered to the Indian Air Force.

 

Mr Michel is believed to be the owner of a consulting company called Global Trade and Commerce and a resident of Chelsea, West London.

 

The consultant, who is also said to have a base in Dubai, comes from a politically connected family.

 

His late father Wolfgang Michel was involved in the 2003 negotiations between the then Labour government of Tony Blair and Libyan Leader Muamar Gaddafi involving a £6 billion military aircraft deal.

 

Mr Orsi had cut Mr Michel into the deal to the dismay of two other middlemen, Ralph Haschke and Carlo Gerosa according to the public prosecutor's interrogations of Mr Haschke and Lorenzo Borgogni, a former head of Finmeccanica's external relations department.

 

"There were two contracts, one with Christian Michel and one with Haschke," said Mr Borgogni. "In total they were worth around €41 million in commission".

 

As well as allegedly bribing members of the Tyagi family, Mr Haschke and Mr Gerosa allegedly managed to alter the terms of the tender from the Indian government and to tilt a flight test in Agusta Westland's favour.

 

"[They] intervened in the tender, changing it to favour Agusta Westland by changing the operating requirements, bringing the altitude requirement down from 18,000ft to 15,000ft," the Italian arrest warrants allege. "This allowed Agusta Westland (which otherwise would not have been able to submit a bid) to take part in the tender".

 

According to the Indian Express newspaper, Mr Haschke told investigators he had met the air chief marshal six or seven times. 

 

Mr Tyagi, however, has claimed the tender changes occurred before he took charge of the air force.

 

While Mr Michel was named extensively in the warrant issued for Mr Orsi, Mr Haschke, Mr Gerosa and Bruno Spagnolini, the head of Agusta Westland, he was not subject to an arrest warrant himself.

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