New Delhi: A Delhi court hearing the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case on Saturday imposed restrictions on alleged middleman Christian Michel meeting his lawyers in ED custody after the agency said that he was misusing legal access by passing chits to the advocates asking them how to tackle questions on "Mrs Gandhi'.
While seeking extension of Michel's remand, the Enforcement Directorate claimed that he made a reference to 'Mrs Gandhi' during questioning and spoke about the "son of an Italian lady" and how he is going to become the next prime minister of the country.
The agency, however, did not state in what context Michel had made these references during interrogation.
The ED sought that Michel be barred from meeting his counsel in its custody, alleging that he was tutored from outside through the lawyers, following which the court directed that the three defence counsel will be able to meet Michel one at a time at a distance from the accused and legal assistance will be only for 15 minutes at 10 am and at 5 pm during a day.
The order came after Michel was Saturday produced before vacation judge, Chandrashekhar, who extended his ED custody by seven days.
The agency told the court that Michel had made a reference to 'Mrs Gandhi' during interrogation on December 27. During medical examination, the accused had handed over a folded paper to his advocate Aljo K Joseph and it was noticed by ED officials. After perusal of the paper, it was revealed that it pertained to a set of follow-up questions on 'Mrs Gandhi', the ED said.
The development intensified the war of words between the BJP and the Congress on the issue with the ruling party attacking Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, claiming that the ED's statement pointed towards involvement of their family in the alleged scam.
Rejecting the charge, the Congress hit out at the BJP-led government at the Centre, accusing it of using agencies to put pressure on Michel to "name a particular family" as elections were near and "it has no real issues".
The ED told the court that it is clear that there is a conspiracy to shield or to tamper with evidence that could be brought forth from questioning of the accused. "The benefit given by the court to the accused of legal access is being misused. It should be stopped henceforth," the agency said.
The agency said it has discovered fresh evidence relating to new entities, used for laundering the proceeds of crime and Michel's custodial interrogation was needed for confrontation with his Indian connections identified till date. It said he was also required to be taken around Delhi to identify the places where he held meetings and used them as hide outs to give bribes or to entertain officials and public figures.
His custody was required for "unearthing the deep-rooted conspiracy and identification of all his accomplices including the IAF officials, MoD (Ministry of Defence) officials, bureaucrats and politicians who gained undue advantage for getting the contract in favour of AgustaWestland," the ED said in the application, adding he remained evasive to some questions during the investigation.
The accused is trying to introduce new alibis to save himself and his aides who have received/facilitated in laundering of proceeds.
Michel, who was extradited from Dubai recently, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on December 22 and sent to seven days custody of the agency over money laundering charges in the scam after he was produced in a court here. He was earlier lodged in Tihar Jail in the related CBI case.
Michel is among the three alleged middlemen being probed in the case by the ED and the CBI. The others are Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
The ED said that investigation has revealed that Michel was the key middleman for AgustaWestland, pursuing the deal at different levels and was instrumental in circulation of sensitive information and payment of kickbacks.
The agency said his custodial interrogation was essential to further determine the role of various accused persons in the commission of the offence for money laundering, the money trail and payment of kickbacks, etc.
It was also required to unearth how the kickbacks were routed and laundered, the carriers involved in facilitating the money laundering, the places where the proceeds of crime are parked and how/by whom.
The key issues being investigated by the ED are the modus operandi adopted by the accused to eliminate TATA and HAL from competition in an Italian deal and the steps undertaken to mask the present deal as a British deal instead of an Italian deal to gain advantage in Light Observation Helicopters.
It also includes the modus operandi adopted in managing to influence the German deal and how the accused violated, misused information leading to actions under the Official Secrets Act.
The agency said the questions prepared for Michel have not been answered as he was writing slowly and his statement remains pending on various key aspects.
The ED said it needs to ascertain the quantum of commission received by Michel from AgustaWestland and the kickbacks forwarded to other middlemen, IAF official, Indian bureaucrats and politicians.
The agency needs to determine the exact quantum of money laundered through Media Exim Pvt Ltd, the roles of co-accused/ other aides and for unearthing the proceeds of crime parked through this channel.
The ED had filed a charge sheet against Michel in June 2016.