Italy probe focuses on UK consultant

The Italian probe into corruption charges in the VVIP helicopter deal for the Indian Air Force is now focusing on a highly connected British consultant who was allegedly hired by the chopper manufacturer, Agusta Westland, to influence the contract.

The consultant, identified as Christian Michel, is being investigated for receiving a portion of the Euro 51 million contract that was given by the manufacturer for Italian businessman Guido Haschke, who had been arrested last week by the authorities in Switzerland in connection with the case.

The name has generated controversy here as Michel is a little known but highly connected consultant who has been very active in the Indian defence sector for the past several years and is known for his links within the Indian government establishment.

Sources said Michel has been associated with Agusta Westland set up in India for the past few years and is still actively involved in the Rs 3,546-crore VVIP helicopter deal that was signed in 2010. The consultant is known for regularly visiting New Delhi where is in regular touch with Agusta Westland officials.

British citizen Michel has been named as "one of the two mediators" in the deal by Italian prosecutors, according to media reports from Italy. The line of investigation being followed, reports say, is that Agusta Westland initially paid Haschke Euro 41 million as part of a contract for the Indian deal but this was increased by Euro 10 million with Michel coming into the picture. Michel's role in both Italy and India is under investigation.

For the Indian defence establishment, Michel is a name that came to prominence in a controversial case that was filed in French courts in 2004 in which he had sued aircraft manufacturer Dassault for allegedly not paying him a share in a contract to sell fighter aircraft to the Indian Air Force.

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