VVIP Chopper Scam: Who is Christian Michel?

by Manu Pubby

NEW DELHI: The man at the centre of the AgustaWestland chopper deal scam has a long India history — from admitting to being a commission agent for the purchase of French Mirage jets to a series of contracts he had with Italian arms firm that paid him $48.6 million for ‘work’ done here.

graphMichel is suspected by Indian agencies to be central to the alleged political payoffs made in the VVIP chopper scam in which AgustaWestland managed to win a contract after twisting the selection process.

Michel, whose father too was active in the Indian arms market in the 1970s and ’80s, is believed to have worked a number of defence deals here but was never exposed before the AgustaWestland scam hit the headlines. Authorities here have booked him for routing money from bogus contracts — including a false claim of buying helicopters from Pawan Hans — through a net of companies to individuals in India who influenced the $556-million deal.

The first indications of his work in the Indian market can be traced to the late 1990s, when he had a deal with French firm Dassault to sell Mirage fighter jets to the IAF. As per the agreement, Michel’s firm Keyser Inc (based in Panama) was to get 2.5% commission for the sale of Mirage 2000 jets to India.

The matter came to light when Michel approached a court in Paris to claim the money, a matter that was contested by the French firms on the grounds that the contract lapsed in 1998. India ended up ordering 10 new Mirage 2000 fighters in November 2000 for €346 million.

“French companies Dassault International, Thomson-CSF and Snecma signed on September 24, 1996, with the company of Panamanian law Keyser Inc contracts under which Keyser was attending Dassault and other companies in the promotion for the sale of Mirage 2000 to India. This contract was renewed twice by amendments on June 30, 1997 and July 10 1998,” a French court judgement from September 11, 2002, accessed by ET, reads.

While Michel lost the case, this was the first time his defence dealings in India were made public. Michel remained active in the arms bazaar and worked to ensure that AgustaWestland was selected after several rounds of trials. A contract was signed in 2010. According to investigations in India and Italy, it was Michel who acquired the lion’s share of the commission for the contract and funnelled it to India.

In a charge sheet filed in September last year, the CBI accused Michel of funnelling bribe money and procuring secret documents of the defence ministry at a time when the selection process was on. These leaked documents included an IAF evaluation of the S-92 helicopter, the only competitor in the VVIP chopper contract.

The money is suspected to have been routed from several agreement that he had with the Italian company.