ED brings in "Mrs. Gandhi" in AgustaWestland case, Michel's custody extended

Christian Michel James. (File Photo: IANS)

New Delhi (IANS): Giving a dramatic twist in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal case, the Enforcement Directorate on Saturday brought in the name of 'Mrs Gandhi' and 'big man R', an apparent reference to Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, in a special court when it got a seven-day extension of custody of British national Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the deal.

Citing from a note of Michel, the agency, however, did not specify who the "Mrs Gandhi" or 'big man R' it was referring to. 

During arguments, the ED counsel L.D. Singh also referred to Michel saying "big man 'R', son of an Italian lady who is going to be the next Prime Minister in a communication between Michel and AgustaWestland," an apparent reference to Congress President Rahul Gandhi. 

"We need to decipher the documents to decrypt such codes," the counsel said. 

In its remand application, the agency claimed that during interrogation on Thursday, Michel gave his lawyer a "folded paper" which the lawyer hid under his mobile phone. This incident took place when a medical team had come to check Michel's health when his lawyer was also present. 

"During the medical examination, Christian Michel stood up and turned towards his advocate Aljo Joseph standing next to him and acted like shaking hands with the advocate and saying him good-bye and extended his hands for handshake.

"It was noticed that Michel secretly handed over a folded paper to his counsel Joseph. Joseph was carrying his mobile phone under which he hide the folded paper and put it discreetly in pocket of his jacket and acted as if nothing took place," reads the ED remand paper.

The remand paper said "immediately after the incident was noticed by the Deputy Director present in the room that Michel has handed over a paper to his counsel".

"On this, counsel Joseph was asked to give the paper back. He took out a folded paper from his jacket and returned the same to Ms Ramanjit Kaur. On perusal of the same, it was found that it was having the typed form of questions to be asked on it.

"The paper was then handed over to Naresh Malik, Assistant Director ED. Perusal of the folded paper revealed that it pertained to a set of questions with regard to follow up questions on 'Mrs Gandhi'. It is clear that there is a conspiracy to shield and or to tamper the evidence that could be brought forth from the questioning of the accused. 

"The benefit given by the court to the accused of legal access is being misused and needs to be discontinued henceforth," it said. 

However, the court allowed continued legal assistance to Michel, though the timing was reduced to 15 minutes from 30 minutes both in the morning and the evening.

The ED said Michel's custody was needed as an investigation was still to be conducted with regard to the places where the meetings between him and other people used to take place with regard to the proceeds of crime and money trail to decipher the voluminous documents, confrontation with other persons and with documents. 

The agency also said the questionnaire, which has already been prepared for investigation by the Investigating Officer, has not yet been completely answered by Michel. How he was able to access classified information protected under the Official Secrets Act also needed to be probed, it said. 

Michel's lawyer Joseph submitted that he was in custody for a long time and already sufficient time was given to ED to complete the probe. "The accused is suffering from dyslexia. So putting a number of questions for hours together to the accused is unnecessary harassment. A request is made that the custody of the accused may not be extended to the ED."

Vacation Judge Chandra Shekhar said that it was in the interest of justice to extend Michel's ED custody for a further seven days as voluminous documents were required to be put to the accused. 

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