A Dubai court order yesterday for the extradition of British national and alleged middleman Christian Michel in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP choppers deal case can trigger a political storm in India as names of Congress politicians have been bandied about as alleged beneficiaries of bribes.
In 2014, India scrapped the contract with Italian company Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 choppers to the Indian Air Force over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs 423 crore by it for securing the deal after revelations made during a judicial trial against the company in Italy. CBI and ED had started investigations in india. Former IAF chief SP Tyagi was accused of taking bribe and was arrested. Christian Michel has been accused of bribing influential people in India to secure the deal.
Who is Christian Michel?
Christian Michel James, is a British businessman active in the Indian defence sector when the scam was exposed. He was allegedly hired by Agusta to influence people including politicians, officials and journalists. He is one of the three middlemen accused of bribing several people to secure the deal for AgustaWestland helicopters.
The accusations against Michel
In its chargesheet filed against Michel in June 2016, the ED had alleged that he received Rs 42 million euros from AgustaWestland. The money was nothing but kickbacks paid by the firm to execute the 12 helicopter deal in favour of the firm in guise of of genuine transactions for performing multiple work contracts in the country, it had alleged. Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by the ED and the CBI. Both the agencies had notified Interpol for a red corner notice against him after the court issued a non-bailable warrant against Michel.
The ED had also claimed in the chargesheet that the three middlemen managed to make inroads into the IAF to influence the stand of the officials into reducing the service ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 metre to 4,500 metre in 2005. AgustaWestland became eligible to supply the dozen helicopters for VVIP flying duties after this change.
The ED investigation found that 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 which he got from AgustaWestland through criminal activity and corruption being done in the chopper deal that led to the subsequent generation of proceeds of crime. Probe agencies claim he made about 300 trips to India between 1997 and 2013. According to the ED, he used Dubai-based Global Services to park and launder bribes. However, Michel has denied all the accusations and even written a letter to the prime minister clarifying his position.
What he has already said
Michel was arrested in February 2017 by the UAE authorities and since then, extradition proceedings have been going on. He is currently out on bail there. Michel’s lawyer claimed in July this year that Michel was being forced to sign a false confessional statement naming former Congress president Sonia Gandhi in return for his personal exoneration. However, the CBI denied having questioned Michel in Dubai.
The politics around Michel’s extradition
If Michel is extradited to India, it will be a big political opportunity for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It will help them deflect attention from prevalent issues of fuel price rise and the Rafale deal. Michel’s extradition will be a positive for the government when it is being criticised for not bringing back other absconders in corruption cases such as Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallaya. Michel’s alleged links to the Congress party will give the BJP enough ammunition to keep the issue alive for months.
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