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‘European breakfast, new cell’: Many demands of Tihar inmate Christian Michel

Michel, 58, the alleged middleman in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland deal for the supply of a dozen helicopters to ferry around VVIPs, was extradited to India from Dubai in December.

india Updated: Mar 21, 2019 10:18 IST
Prawesh Lama
Prawesh Lama
New Delhi
tihar jail,christian michel,european breakfast
In January, within days of Michel’s extradition, Tihar officials held a meeting to choose a safe space inside the jail for him. (AP)

Christian Michel isn’t popular with Tihar jail officials.

He has demanded that he be served a European breakfast, wanted his prison space changed three times, and said he is being treated like a monkey in a zoo. He has complained of inmates defecating in the open and of him having to do it, too.

Indeed, Briton Michel’s litany of complaints has made him Tihar jail’s most demanding inmate, prison officers say.

Michel, 58, the alleged middleman in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland deal for the supply of a dozen helicopters to ferry around VVIPs, was extradited to India from Dubai in December. As a high-value prisoner, he has to be guarded round-the-clock.

In January, within days of Michel’s extradition, Tihar officials held a meeting to choose a safe space inside the jail for him.

In a prison that houses some of the country’s most notorious terrorists, murderers, serial killers, rapists and gangsters, the top prison officers decided to lodge him in a space that houses prisoners booked for white-collar crime, they said on condition of anonymity.

The white-collar prisoners were the safest inmates for Michel to share space with, the officials reckoned. Like Michel, they were booked for fraud and economic crimes.The hitch was that Michel didn’t want to share space with them, and told the court as much. “We shifted him to another cell. He then filed another complaint saying he was kept with murderers. We had no option but to shift him to a single cell,” said a prison officer, who did not wish to be named. HT has seen a copy of the letter.

Sometime last month, Michel was shifted to Ward X, one of the safest corners in the complex. In Ward X, no other prisoner could talk to Michel. He had his own cell and a courtyard. Jail officers had also received inputs about possible threats to Michel’s life, and thought he would be safe in the ward. Only three other prisoners were housed in the ward in different cells — underworld don Chhota Rajan, political leader Mohammad Shahabuddin, and Delhi gangster Neeraj Bawana.

Within a week, though, Michel filed another complaint --this time about being kept in isolation. “It is the most guarded corner in prison. There is a courtyard and an open cell but he did not want to live in isolation. So, he was shifted to another cell with other regular prisoners,” a second jail officer said. About 10 days ago, when Michel filed a third complaint, it did not come as a surprise, jail officers said. This time, Michel complained about being housed with separatist leaders arrested for militant activities in Kashmir.

In Tihar, where the normal breakfast is usually tea, bread, biscuits, porridge and halva, Michel demanded a European breakfast. Prison officers say there are over 80 foreigners in jail but no exception is made for anyone. Serving meat in the form of sausages or bacon, which is usually a part of European breakfast, wasn’t possible because Tihar only serves vegetarian meals.

Last week, Michel told a city judge that he “felt like a monkey in a zoo”, according to two news reports. He said he was kept behind bars and when he asked for water, the prison guards pushed a glass of water through the iron bars. And Michel had another complaint - he told the court that prisoners defecate in the open and he, too, was forced to do so in front of others.

The CBI accused him of making such allegations to tarnish India’s image.

”Ours is a jail where some of the richest men and women have spent months or years in some cases. There are real estate giants, hoteliers, politicians, and some of the wealthiest criminals,” a third prison officer who wished to remain anonymous said.

“Nobody has faced such problems. Nobody defecates in the open, anywhere. Michel said he wants sports facilities but does not want to mix with other prisoners, who pose no threat to his life and have been carefully selected to be around him by the jail authorities. Won’t he need a partner to play a sport?”

Sunil Gupta, who was Tihar’s law officer for 35 years until he retired in 2015, said prisoners tend to make such demands as a pressure tactic. Until early 2001, the jail had a separate menu for foreigners that offered items such as pizza and pasta.

“It was discontinued because prisons outside India offer the same food to all prisoners,” Gupta said. “Indian prisoners in jails abroad do not get dal or roti. When the matter went to court, the high court ruled in our favour. There is no doubt that there is a threat to Michel’s life, but allegations such as open defecation are weird.” 

First Published: Mar 21, 2019 05:16 IST

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