New Delhi: In what can be attributed to goof-up by Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India has indeed lost a “golden chance” to get the custody of AgustaWestland middleman Christian Michel from UAE.
Highly placed sources told newsroompost.com if MEA had taken a step at the right time Christian Michel would have been extradited to India from UAE, the country which arrested him on the request of India last year. The UAE had given India time till May 19, 2018 to present the evidence to get extradition of Michel, but delayed response on the part of MEA played spoilsport, added sources.
According to sources, MEA officials could not do the needful within the time given and Michel, who is an important link in the probe of the AgustaWestland scam, is still beyond India’s reach. Michel is in the meantime reported to have been released by UAE court obviously for want of evidence that India was supposed to present.
According to sources, MEA officials are putting the blame on investigative agencies CBI and ED for the delay. However, both the agencies have denied that the delay has happened because of them. Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate are probing the VVIP chopper deal scam.
Sources said that Indian investigators had to travel to Dubai to meet Michel in connection with the probe because of failed attempt to extradite him from there. Christian Michel has been refusing to join the probe and investigators had to return from Dubai empty handed due to his stubborn behaviour.
Michel is a key middleman who is suspected of having routed payments to officials and politicians for the VVIP chopper deal. Sources said a senior investigator interrogated Christian Michel in Dubai earlier this month (June, 2018). Michel is supposed to be a key link who could provide crucial information on the AgustaWestland bribery case involving the $556-million deal to supply VVIP helicopters to India.
Christian Michel is believed to have been paid $48.6 million by the Italian company for contracts in India. He was reportedly arrested in Dubai last year obviously on the personal request of the Indian government to the UAE rulers.
What is important is that the efforts to extradite Michel through an Interpol red corner notice have so far remained an exercise in futility. According to sources, now the agencies are looking at alternate mechanisms to get the middleman suspected to be at the centre of political payoffs for the VVIP chopper deal that was signed in 2010.
How ED made effort to catch Christian Michel
Earlier, the Enforcement Directorate had moved a request for the extradition of Christian Michel, alleged “middleman” in the VVIP helicopter deal, from the UAE.
The request was sent to the UAE via the External Affairs Ministry. The Home Ministry scrutinised the documents. The proceedings were initiated under the extradition treaty between the two countries after both the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation filed charge sheets in their respective bribery cases. Non-bailable warrants were also issued against Michel and on India’s request, the Interpol subjected him to a Red Notice.
Sources say that UAE extradition law makes it compulsory to present evidence to get custody of the accused.
Why Christian Michel could be an important catch
According to probe agencies, the AgustaWestland deal caused a loss of €398.21 million to the Indian exchequer. As part of the alleged conspiracy, then Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi had lowered the service ceiling requirement of the helicopter from 6,000 to 4,500 metres and also revised operational conditions, which made AgustaWestland eligible for the deal.
Christian Michel allegedly played a key role in swinging the Rs 3,727-crore deal for AgustaWestland to supply 12 VVIP choppers in 2010. The deal was scrapped by the previous UPA government in 2014.
AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defence giant Finmeccanica, allegedly paid more than Rs 375 crore as bribe to secure the deal. The British wheeler-dealer came under the scanner after an Italian court convicted two former officials of the defence giant for corruption.
The names of five Congress leaders, including party chief Sonia Gandhi, figured in a judgment by the court. In 2013, CBI registered a case over alleged bribes paid by a British firm to Indians to clinch the deal while the ED initiated a money-laundering probe in 2014.