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Rakesh Asthana, CBI No. 2 who probed Agusta accused, now fights for career

Dec 05, 2018

As the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland deal, Christian James Michel, 57, landed in India after being extradited from Dubai, the CBI officer who supervised the probe against him for most parts is fighting a tough legal battle of survival. The government had divested both Asthana and CBI chief Alok Verma of their powers after both of them levelled charges of corruption and misconduct against each other.

Weeks before he was stripped of his charge, Asthana had completed most of the groundwork for the chargesheet that the agency will file in court against Christian Michel. Asthana, the CBI No. 2, had led the probe in the AgustaWestland case for nearly two years.

The team of CBI officials that had gone to Dubai to bring Michel back to India was led by CBI joint director A Sai Manohar. Manohar was part of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed under Rakesh Asthana more than two years ago to look after more than half a dozen big ticket cases of corruption - such as the Vijay Mallya scam, AgustaWestland case, Moin Qureshi probe. Anil Sinha was the heading the investigation body at that time.

When the FIR was filed against Asthana, on charges that he was trying to save a Hyderabad-based businessman from CBI action in the Moin Qureshi case, Manohar too was being treated as a suspect since he was part of the SIT formed under Asthana.

Asthana, who was divested of his responsibility on October 23 in a midnight drama, had supervised the filing of the first chargesheet in the AgustaWestland case in September 2017. Apart from middleman Christian James Michel, the chargesheet had also named former Air Chief SP Tyagi as one of the accused. Now, with Christian Michel in their custody, the CBI will be looking to fill in the gaps in their information on how politicians and the key players in the case were bribed to swing the deal in Agusta’s favour.

At the time his fight with CBI director Alok Verma had peaked in October, Asthana was overseeing work on the supplementary charge-sheet. While the first chargesheethad focussed on the role of bureaucrats in the deal, the supplementary chargesheetwas meant to focus on political beneficiaries in the deal, say officials familiar with the case and latest developments at CBI.

The AgustaWestland middleman Christian James Michel arrived in India late on Tuesday night after he was extradited by Dubai following the Dubai Cassation Court’s dismissing the legal challenges to his extradition to India.

Michel is wanted for commercial fraud, bribery and money laundering in connection with the deal to purchase 12 helicopters for the Indian Air Force from the company then known as AgustaWestland. Michel has refuted the allegations.

On August 24, Asthana had complained against CBI director Alok Verma and had levelled charges of corruption and misconduct against his boss. Following his complaint, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) looked into charges against Verma but the vigilance body ordered that he, too, cannot function as CBI chief. Following the CVC order, the government appointed M Nageswara Rao as acting director of the agency on October 23 and sent both Verma and Asthana on leave. Verma has challenged his forced exile from the agency in the Supreme Court. The court will resume its hearing in the case today.

Asthana in the last few months also alleged, in his conversations with other officials, that he was being targeted by CBI chief Alok Verma since he was handling politically sensitive cases such as the ones against liquor baron Vijay Mallya and AgustaWestland scam, say officials familiar with the developments at CBI.

“Christian Michel James will be examined with respect to his involvement in the case and confronted with documents recovered during raids by Swiss Authorities and received by CBI through LRs indicating the bribes paid by Mr Christian Michel James to the Indian authorities for securing the contract for supply of VVIP helicopters from M/s AgustaWestland,” CBI said in a statement.

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