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Christian Michel, VVIP chopper deal accused, to be produced before CBI court

A British national, Christian Michel is wanted in India for allegedly organising bribes in exchange for a 2007 contract for the purchase of 12 VVIP luxury helicopters.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2018 08:27 IST
Rajesh Ahuja
Rajesh Ahuja
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
VVIP chopper deal,middleman,Christian Michel
A photo of AgustaWestland AW101 chopper, configured to meet diverse roles for pre-dominantly Maritime and Utility tasks.

British businessman Christian James Michel, 57, the alleged middleman in the multimillion-dollar AgustaWestland helicopter deal, was on Tuesday extradited to New Delhi from Dubai, in a move that many see as a significant win for the Indian government.

After being brought back to India, Michel was taken to CBI headquarters following a medical checkup. He reached CBI headquarters at 1.38 am. Later in the day, he will be produced before a designated CBI court where the investigative body will seek his remand to interrogate him in custody.

The extradition coincides with a visit to the UAE by India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. Both the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have filed cases against him. Michel landed in a chartered flights along with Indian officials at 11:05pm at the IGI Airport.

The move is even more significant because Michel is a British national being extradited to India from Dubai.

The extradition was anticipated as Dubai’s highest court on November 19 approved India’s request to extradite Michel, subject to the move being approved by the UAE’s justice minister. Officials said Swaraj’s presence in Dubai for a meeting of the India-UAE Joint Commission helped push the process.

National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief Anil Dhasmana and India’s ambassador to the UAE, Navdeep Singh Suri, also played key roles, the officials said.

Rosemary Patrizi, the lawyer for the businessman declined to comment when she was asked if her client received a fair hearing. “It is difficult to judge…we tried to convince the court but we couldn’t. Now we have to wait,” she said, adding that Michel’s legal team will look at options under Indian law.

Last month, the Dubai Cassation Court effectively ended the legal challenge to Michel’s extradition by upholding an appellate court’s decision to extradite himthough he pleaded ‘not guilty’.

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.

Alleged irregularities in the AgustaWestland deal were repeatedly raised by the Bharatiya Janata Party during its successful 2014 general elections campaign. Michel’s extradition comes at a time when the Opposition has been targeting the government over a deal for the purchase of Rafale combat aircraft.

In February 2017, Indian authorities made a request for Michel’s extradition to the Dubai Public Prosecutor. He was arrested by Dubai Police and his passport seized before he was granted bail. On September 2, Dubai’s Court of Appeals ruled Michel could be extradited and he lost his bail conditions.

In 2010, India signed an agreement to buy 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters to ferry the Prime Minister, the President and other VVIPs. In 2013, Italian officials arrested Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of AgustaWestland’s parent company, and said there were irregularities in the deal. Soon after, then defence minister AK Antony ordered a probe. In 2014, India scrapped the deal.

There were allegations the kickbacks for the deal were as much as ?423 crore and Michel was accused of facilitating the bribes. According to the charges filed against him by ED in 2016, he received ?225 crore from the firm.

“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.

First Published: Dec 04, 2018 21:58 IST