AgustaWestland scam accused middleman Michel Christian at CBI headquarters in New Delhi

The ED claims the reports by Manu Pubby and Shekhar Gupta were "toned down" but it was the newspaper's reports from 2012-13 which form the backbone of the prosecution's case alleging irregularities and corruption in the VVIP chopper deal

New Delhi: In a reaction to the Enforcement Directorate’s suggestion that its former defence reporter and editor had “toned down” a story on the AgustaWestland helicopter deal to suit the Italian company and its middlemen, the Indian Express on Friday noted that it was the newspaper which first broke the story and that its “reporting revealed several facts that form the spine of the chargesheet.”

In its latest chargesheet in the case, the ED claims that Christian Michel, in his statement, “admitted hiring services of Guy Douglas to influence the media” and “tone down” the coverage of the AgustaWestland chopper deal. The chargesheet mentions Manu Pubby and the then editor in chief of the Indian Express Shekhar Gupta.

According to the chargesheet, Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland choppers deal, claimed to have “engaged a full-time press adviser Guy Douglas to have at least our side reported.” The chargesheet quotes him as saying, “The most aggressive journalist was Manu Pubby (then with the Indian Express)…Guy Douglas’s first task was to meet Manu Pubby and see if he was willing to listen to our side of the story.”

‘Purpose Is To Malign The Media’

In its reaction, the Indian Express noted: “Douglas was the official spokesperson for AgustaWestland. As part of its journalistic process, The Indian Express sought his comments and reactions to the stories it published.”

“It is surprising that such charges (not backed by any proof of consideration) were approved by the Enforcement Directorate’s legal adviser,” Sanjay Kapoor, editor of Hard News, told the Indian Journalism Review. “The seemingly political motivated chargesheet misconstrues legitimate journalistic work which includes interacting with all people (including PR consultants). The chargesheet hints of a consideration without providing any proof. Quite apparently, its purpose is to malign the media by feeding the stereotype of Editors and media being corrupt and biased.”

A series of investigative reports by Manu Pubby in the Indian Express in 2012-13 first detailed the alleged irregularities and corruption in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal. A subsequent investigation prompted the government to cancel the deal altogether.

Shekhar Gupta Hits Out

Responding to the claims made in the ED chargesheet, Shekhar Gupta, who now edits an online portal, The Print, called the allegations, “laughable and utterly preposterous” and pointed out that the “timing of the lie by an alleged middleman, extradited into the custody of government agencies as an eventual outcome of the media investigation, raises deep suspicions about its motive”.

Former Indian Express journalist, Manu Pubby, who was also mentioned in the chargesheet, tweeted a long list of his reports between 2012 and 2014 which eventually helped investigators unravel the Agusta case.

The Enforcement Directorate in its chargesheet also alleged that kickbacks were paid to “defence officials, bureaucrats, media persons and important political persons of the ruling party” in connection with the VVIP chopper deal. According to PTI, the chargesheet also said that Michel identified “AP’’ as Ahmed Patel and “Fam’’ as Family.