The Congress was thrown yet another challenge today by the ruling BJP over the marquis scandal involving a corrupt deal to buy helicopters from AgustaWestland, an Anglo-Italian firm. Anurag Thakur of the BJP said in Parliament that a Congressman travelled abroad recently for a covert meeting with Christian Michel, a man whose extradition India has sought as it tries to uncover who was bribed for the 12-helicopter deal.
“Recently a senior Congress leader went and met Christian Michel in Dubai… does the union government know about it?” Mr Thakur asked.
Christian Michel James, a British consultant, has denied that when the Congress was in power in India, he performed as a middleman for Agusta in arranging and paying millions of euros worth of kickbacks. A few weeks ago, a court in Italy found Agusta executives guilty of bribing Indians, but said it’s up to Delhi to discover who accepted the money. Documents reviewed by the court include letters between middlemen and Agusta execs that named Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and her top advisers.
The Congress has rebutted all accusations of corruption within its top rung. As part of its defence, it has pointed out that Mr Michel claims the letters seen by the Italian court that are attributed to him are forged – including one that refers to “Signora Gandhi” as “the driving force” of the decision taken by the government that was led by the Congress to acquire new helicopters for use by top politicians.
Mr Michel claims that the Indian government sought to pressure him to indict Mrs Gandhi and her son, Rahul. He also says that last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with the Italian premier in New York on the sidelines of a UN summit and offered to facilitate the return of a pair of Italian marines arrested in Delhi for shooting Kerala fishermen in exchange for information that could indict the Gandhis.
The government has firmly denied that accusation in Parliament.