Did Michel make UPA-2 put Rafale deal on ice? Agencies set to probe
- There seemed to be a lack of energy in the UPA-2 government even though Rafale was declared ‘L1’ (lowest bidder) in January 2012
- Negotiations with Dassault Aviation were in an advanced stage with regard to certain issues which turned into intractable differences
The line of investigation, a well placed source said, whether Michel was part of intense corporate lobbying over the fighter deal and if he had a role in events leading to the Manmohan Singh government putting the Rafale acquisition into a virtual freeze around 2012 once differences arose over issues like warranty and production of the jet under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
There seemed to be a lack of energy in the government even though Rafale was declared ‘L1’ (lowest bidder) in January 2012. Negotiations with Dassault Aviation were in an advanced stage with regard to certain issues which turned into intractable differences. The deal languished thereafter.
The source said Michel's reputation as a man who managed things soared after the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland deal for the supply of 12 VVIP choppers to India went through. By 2010, he had become an established middleman in the defence aviation sector with “deep inroads” into the Indian decision-making system. He was allegedly approached to pitch in for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the competitor to Rafale.
Agencies have recovered some evidence that indicate a sudden interest on Michel’s part with regard to Eurofighter’s prospects. The Enforcement Directorate, which had earlier questioned Michel for two weeks in the AgustaWestland case, is probing money trails in another suspected defence payoff.
In the AgustaWestland deal, Michel is accused of allegedly receiving over Rs 200 crore in bribes, part of which he is believed to have shared with his Indian contacts.
The UPA government, which had started negotiations with Dassault Aviation in 2007, had almost reached a deal to acquire 18 Rafale jets in flyaway condition and 108 for licence production at HAL. There was an “unsolicited offer of 20% discount” by the Eurofighter consortium on its previous offer while letters were written to then defence minister A K Antony alleging irregularities in the Rafale acquisition.
Michel is currently in judicial custody in Tihar. He was arrested by the CBI soon after his deportation from Dubai on December 5 last year. During his custodial interrogation with the ED, he is believed to have expressed his desire to make a “full disclosure” of facts concerning him with regard to the payoff allegations, sources said.
Some officials interpret Michel’s move as his attempt to explore the possibility of becoming an approver, similar to what another accused in the case, Rajiv Saxena, has done recently.