AgustaWestland Middleman Christian Michel Extradited to India
Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland chopper deal, was extradited to India on Tuesday, 4 December.
Michel was brought to New Delhi aboard an Aviation Research Centre plane of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) around 10.45 pm from Dubai. The operation was reportedly overseen by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval himself, and was coordinated by interim CBI Director M Nageswar Rao.
He had left Dubai on a special flight on Monday, 3 December, accompanied by a team of doctors and officials to ensure he stays fit.
Security arrangements had been beefed up at the airport amid commotion as reporters thronged the area.
The Dubai government had passed an administrative order, paving the way for the extradition on Tuesday and the Indian authorities were there to complete the final formalities. Michel is accused of receiving Rs 225 crore as kickbacks from AgustaWestland.
Michel’s lawyer Rosemary Patrizi, however, said there was no evidence against him.
“Back here in Milan, we had five degrees of proceedings (in the investigation) and we found no evidence. India was also a part of the proceedings and could’ve submitted any evidence... but, there isn’t any. No one could find anything against him.”Rosemary Patrizi, Christian Michel’s lawyer, to CNN-News18
Who is Christian Michel?
At the time of the Rs 3,600-crore scam that came to light in 2013, Christian Michel was a well-known British consultant who was active in the Indian defence sector. It was alleged that he was hired by AgustaWestland to facilitate the deal for the supply of 12 helicopters to India in 2010.
Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by the ED and CBI.
Wolfgang Max Richard Michel, Christian’s father, was also a consultant of AgustaWestland for the Indian territory in the 1980s, and had reportedly acted as a mediator in other countries too.
Why Is His Arrest a Shot in the Arm for the Agencies?
In its charge sheet filed against Michel in June 2016, the ED had alleged that he received EUR 30 million (approximately Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland as “kickbacks” to execute the deal and to make it look like a genuine transaction.
The ED has also brought on the record that the three middlemen "managed to" make inroads into the Indian Air Force (IAF) to influence the stand of officials to reduce the service ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres in 2005, according to PTI.
AgustaWestland became eligible to supply the dozen helicopters for VVIP flying duties after this change.
Moreover, according to the ED investigation, remittances made by Michel through his Dubai-based firm, Global Services, to a media firm he floated in Delhi, along with two Indians, were made from the funds he got from AgustaWestland through “criminal activity” and corruption being done in the chopper deal, reported PTI.
A Red Corner Notice was issued against Michel in 2015 by Interpol on the request of both the ED and CBI.
In July 2018, Michel had accused Indian investigators of pressuring him to name UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and frame senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel in return for a clean chit in the multi-crore scam. His lawyer, Rosemary Patrizi, had made similar charges against the Indian probe agencies, although the CBI had denied the allegations.
Extradition From UAE
Michel was arrested by UAE authorities in February 2017 on the strength of the Interpol Red Notice. Following this, the CBI filed a charge sheet in the court on 1 September 2017 against Michel and 11 other accused persons. The trial court took cognizance of the offences on 11 October 2017.
The CBI’s request for extradition was forwarded to the UAE authorities on 19 March 2017 through diplomatic channels. Extradition Proceedings were held before a UAE court against Michel on the extradition request of the CBI.
The Court of Dubai upheld the lower court decision for possibility of extraditing Michel to Indian authorities on 19 November 2018. Accordingly, Michel was extradited to face legal proceedings in India.
Congress Hits Out at CBI
Senior Congress leader and former Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid took a jibe at the CBI after the extradition of Michel, saying that he was ‘impressed’ the agency had time to do so despite its ongoing crisis.
“I am very impressed that CBI, that is tearing itself apart, screaming and shouting at each other with all allegations of corruption doing the rounds before courts, still finds the time to go looking for somebody who they can hold responsible for Agusta deal,” he said.
“... that too, after other countries that are involved in the matter have finished their legal proceedings and come to the conclusion that there's nothing against these people except an attempt to put pressure on them to somehow involve Congress leaders in this enterprise. Now that's the game CBI is playing, they're welcome to play it. I hope they've their facts and figure in place to persuade a court,” Khurshid added.
(With inputs from Khaleej Times, Economic Times, PTI and CNN-News18)