Christian Michel under ‘red notice’ as India’s CBI seeks his extradition over bribery claims
By David Pallister | 15 December 2015
“Criminal conspiracy, cheating, illegal gratification and abuse of official position” – Charges listed by Interpol against Christian Michel
Interpol has issued a “red notice” for the arrest of a British businessman implicated in a bribery scandal over a UK defence contract in India.
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) wants Christian Michel to be seized and extradited for prosecution over allegations of running a slush fund of €30 million linked to a €560 million deal that was secured by AgustaWestland, the Anglo-Italian helicopter manufacturer.
According to Interpol’s red notice, the Indian authorities want Michel on charges of “criminal conspiracy, cheating, illegal gratification and abuse of official position”.
The notice gives his full name as Christian James Michel, his age as 54, and says that he was born in Harrogate in the UK. It also includes the first known photograph to be published of him (picture shown to the right).
Michel is alleged to have acted as a middleman for the supply by AgustaWestland of 12 AW101 helicopters to the Indian Air Force, eight of which were for transporting VIPs. India cancelled the contract after the delivery by AgustaWestland of just three helicopters.
AgustaWestland, the main supplier of helicopters to the UK’s armed forces, and its Italian parent company, Finmeccanica, were subject to investigations in Italy and India over the 2010 deal.
As part of their investigation into alleged corruption in the contract, Italian police in February 2013 arrested Giuseppe Orsi, who was chief executive of AgustaWestland, then chief executive and chairman of Finmeccanica, and Bruno Spagnolini, who succeeded Orsi as AgustaWestland’s chief executive.
Michel became embroiled in allegations of bribery over the contract in 2013, and light was shed on his role in the deal in bugged telephone conversations captured in a surveillance operation by Italian police.
The arrest warrant for Orsi and Spagnolini named Michel as a co-conspirator who received “€30 million, partly destined to support the corrupt activity meant to win the order and partly to implement the contract.”
Exaro established two years ago that Michel had a long-standing relationship with AgustaWestland. He acted as an agent, although the company denied that it had engaged him on the AW101 contract with India, which bans middlemen on defence deals.
Michel’s then Panamanian company, Keyser, was widely reported to have acted as an agent for the sale by the French-based Dassault of 10 Mirage 2000 jets to the Indian Air Force in a deal worth €346 million.
Keyser sued in France, claiming total commission of 2.5 per cent on the deal. It lost, and the court ordered Keyser to repay a $100,000 advance.
A few days before an appeal by Keyser, the company withdrew the case, sparking speculation about an out-of-court settlement.
Michel agreed in 2004 to a ban from being a director of any UK company for seven years after his investment company, Entera Corporation, failed. He admitted “unfit conduct” by causing the company “to trade to the detriment of its creditors”.
Last year, Orsi and Spagnolini were found not guilty of corruption, but were given suspended prison sentences of two years for false accounting.
Italian prosecutors are due to start an appeal against the acquittals on corruption charges next month.
Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland have denied wrongdoing.
The Indian authorities have continued to investigate allegations of corruption despite the outcome of the case in Italy. As well as India’s CBI, the country’s Enforcement Directorate, which combats money laundering, is investigating the contract.
Michel is based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and has made no comment in response to Exaro for the past two-and-a-half years. A further e-mail this week failed to elicit any reply.
India has an extradition agreement with the UAE.
Michel is well-connected with London society and owns a house in Chelsea. His sister, Caroline, is the chief executive of Peters Fraser & Dunlop, the literary and talent agency, and earlier this year became chairwoman of Hay Festival. She has not responded to questions about her brother.
Their father, Wolfgang Michel, who died three years ago, had long-standing business links with India’s defence establishment.
Geoff Hoon, former defence secretary, faces pressure over his role as managing director for AgustaWestland’s international business as the company has been plunged into a spate of corruption claims in Algeria and South Korea, as well as India.
Update 15 December 2015 11.30am: Interpol has also issued ‘wanted’ notices for Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, who are accused of acting as middlemen on the AW101 deal. They are wanted by the Indian authorities on a charge of money laundering.
The Interpol notice for Haschke describes him as an American-born Italian aged 64. Gerosa is said to be Italian born, with Italian-Swiss nationality, aged 69.
Under the plea bargain, Haschke was sentenced for international corruption to serve 22 months in home detention or perform community service.
Agreeing to a plea bargain, however, does not mean an admission of guilt under Italian law. But an Italian judge has to be sure that there are no reasons for an acquittal before accepting such an agreement.
Update 7 April 2016: An appeal court in Italy today found Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini guilty of corruption. Orsi was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison, and Spagnolini to four.
The ruling overturns a lower court’s finding in 2014 that they were not guilty of corruption. The two former chief executives of AgustaWestland were, however, convicted in the previous ruling of falsifying invoices, and had each been sentenced to two years in jail.
The appeal court also ordered the two ex-executives to pay €7.5 million, which is the amount allegedly paid in bribes.
The finding of corruption by the appeal court marks a setback for AgustaWestland as it tries to restore its reputation.
Ennio Amodio, a lawyer for Orsi, said: “This sentence is inexplicable.” He also said that the two former bosses will appeal to Italy’s Supreme Court. They will not be detained until a final verdict is reached.
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