UK should press India for Christian Michel’s release, say his lawyers, family
Christian Michel’s son Alaric said they have waited three years for his father’s trial to start “despite fears that such a trial won’t be free and fair”. He said his father was “rotting in jail”.
New Delhi: The United Kingdom should press India to release Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal, in the aftermath of a UN panel ruling that his detention is arbitrary, Michel’s lawyers and family said on Thursday.
Michel’s sons, Alaric and Alois, and lawyers Francois Zimeray and Toby Cadman, who are working with Michel’s Indian counsel Aljo Joseph, told a virtual news conference they feared the British national would not get a free and fair trial in India.
There was no immediate response from Indian officials to the latest comments by Michel’s lawyers and family.
Christian Michel has been held in India since he was extradited from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December 2018. He recently sought bail in cases registered against him by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate on the grounds that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded his detention was arbitrary.
The lawyers said they planned to petition the UN to take further action following India’s failure to act on WGAD recommendation in March this year that Michel should be immediately freed. They said they would also submit a report to the UK government and the European Union (EU) on Michel’s case.
Zimeray, France’s former ambassador-at-large for human rights and a former member of the European Parliament, and Cadman, a London-based barrister specialising in international law, contended India had violated its obligations under international treaties and conventions by failing to act on WGAD’s findings.
Alaric Michel, 26, said his father was “rotting in jail” amid fears about rising Covid-19 cases in India. “We want his trial to take place despite fears that such a trial won’t be free and fair...We are imploring the UK government to do what is right, which is protecting one of its citizens who is being treated badly,” he said.
Alois Michel, 24, said the family has been waiting for more than three years for developments in Michel’s case amid “fears about a trial ever happening”. Both of Michel’s sons pointed out he had spent many years in India and didn’t represent a flight risk.
Zimeray pointed to the actions of the Indian and British governments and said he had rarely seen “such a lack of respect for basic human rights and indifference”. The UN panel’s recommendations didn’t amount to a political decision as WGAD’s findings were technical in nature and based on whether India’s position was in line with international treaties and conventions it has signed, he said.
“It is up to the UK government to raise its voice and raise the issue [with India] as Michel has been jailed for political reasons,” Zimeray said. “What’s happening is absolutely illegal and goes against the treaties India has ratified.”
Zimeray also said Michel is “not above the law”. He added, “If there are questions from the Indian justice [system], he must face them, he is willing to answer them...
He is not guilty, he is presumed innocent and has to be treated as such.”
Cadman – who is joint head at Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, which petitioned WGAD on Michel’s behalf in 2019 – alleged CBI was still attempting to “coerce a confession” out of Michel. “They are trying to intimidate him till he provides a confession to conclude what is a very, very political case. Members of the Indian government have made statements convicting him even before a trial,” he said.
“There is no privileged consular access to Michel and prison guards or CBI officials have been present whenever officials of the British high commission have met him,” Cadman said, adding there were “repeated attempts by the CBI to coerce him into giving a confession”.
Michel was living in Dubai when India sought his extradition for involvement in alleged irregularities in the 2010 deal to acquire 12 AgustaWestland helicopters worth 556.2 million euros. At the time, Michel was a middleman and an external consultant for a subsidiary of AgustaWestland. He has denied all charges levelled against him.
Even before the formal release of WGAD’s report, the external affairs ministry said the group’s conclusions were based on “limited information, biased allegations from an unidentified source and on an inaccurate understanding of India’s criminal justice system”.