Delhi's Patiala House court on Saturday directed the Tihar jail authorities to submit CCTV footage containing visuals from February 13 to 17 of cell number 7, where Christian Michel, an alleged 'middleman', was kept last month for questioning in connection with the multi-crore AgustaWestland VVIP choppers scam case. Special judge Arvind Kumar has asked for the CCTV recording in order to ascertain allegations of torture and humiliation levelled by Michel. The court has listed the matter for further hearing on March 19.
On March 12, Michel had told the court that former CBI special director Rakesh Asthana had met him in Dubai and had threatened to "make his life hell inside the jail" if he did not toe the line of the agency.
"Some time ago, Rakesh Asthana had met me in Dubai and had threatened that my life would be made hell in the jail and that is what is going on. My next door inmate is (gangster) Chhota Rajan.... I do not understand what crime I have committed to be put along with terrorists and those who have killed several people," he stated.
However, the jail authorities had on March 14 denied the allegations of torture and said Michel was shifted to a high-risk prison considering threats to his life.
The court had previously lashed out at the jail authorities for failing to justify the shifting of Michel to a high-security cell in isolation, saying it would order an inquiry if it did not get a proper response.
However, after going through the CCTV footage of jail number 1, where Michel was lodged earlier, the court had noted that the premises were clean and that good facility was provided to Michel.
Michel, 57, who is a citizen of the United Kingdom, was brought to India on December last year, following his extradition by the UAE in connection with the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP choppers scam case.
Michel is among the three alleged middlemen being probed in the Rs 3,600-crore VVIP choppers scam by the ED and the CBI. The other two are Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
What is AgustaWestland VVIP choppers scam?
In February 2010, the then Congress-led UPA government had signed a contract with AgustaWestland - the British arm of Italian firm Finmeccanica – to buy 12 AW101 helicopters to ferry VVIPs, including the President of India, the Prime Minister and other important persons. Controversies surrounded the deal following allegations that Finmeccanica paid a huge amount of money to several officials and politicians to win the VVIP choppers deal with the Indian Air Force.
There were also reports that some of the technical specifications of the helicopters were changed to help AgustaWestland bag the deal. The service ceiling of the helicopter was lowered to 4,500 m from 6,000 m. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had alleged that the deal signed with the AgustaWestland on February 8, 2010, to purchase 12 VVIP helicopters had cost the taxpayers a loss of approximately Rs 2,666 crore.
By June 2014, the Indian government recovered the total amount of Rs 2,068 crore including the 45 per cent of the contract value paid to AgustaWestland. The development came nearly a year after then defence minister AK Antony in 2013 confirmed corruption allegations in the multi-crore VVIP choppers deal.