British national Christian Michel James, a key accused in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case, was extradited by UAE authorities to India. Michel, who was kept under detention in Dubai, took the flight to India tonight and landed at New Delhi.
PTI reported that Michel landed in India at 22.35 hrs on Gulfstream jet.
“Wanted fugitive criminal Christian Michel James who has been avoiding criminal proceedings in India in AgustaWestland Case is being extradited by UAE Authorities to India,” the CBI said in a statement.
The investigating agency also said the entire operation is being coordinated by interim CBI director M Nageswara Rao under the guidance of Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor. A team led by A. Sai Manohar, CBI Joint Director, has been sent to Dubai for the purpose,” it added.
54-year-old Michel was among the alleged middlemen who brokered the deal and who, investigators claim, paid bribes to officials and politicians to swing the contract in favour of AgustaWestland, the British arm of Italian firm Finmeccanica.
In November, the Court of Cassation had upheld a lower court order which said that Michel could be extradited.
Based on the criminal investigations conducted in the case by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), India officially made the request to the Gulf nation in 2017 for his extradition.
In 1999, the Indian Air Force came up with a proposal for the acquisition of 12 VVIP helicopters to ferry top government functionaries. A year later, the deal was granted to AgustaWestland for over Rs 3,600 crore. However, this was followed by allegations that technical specifications had been tweaked — including lowering of the service ceiling of the helicopter from 6,000 m to 4,500 m —to help AgustaWestland qualify and win the bid, for which bribes were allegedly paid.
On March 14, 2013, the CBI filed an FIR after a preliminary inquiry. The FIR named former IAF chief S P Tyagi and 12 other individuals as accused, apart from four companies. These individuals included members of the Tyagi family and three middlemen — Michel, Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke. The ED too began investigations under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Michel has denied the charges.
On January 1, 2014, India cancelled the contract with Italy-based Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs 423 crore by it for securing the deal.
The CBI has alleged there was an estimated loss of Euro 398.21 million (approximately Rs 2,666 crore) to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010 for the supply of VVIP choppers worth Euro 556.262 million.
Reflecting on the development, the BJP said the extradition of Michel was a diplomatic victory for India and could spell “serious trouble” for the Congress’ “first family”.
“Extradition of Christian Michel is a shot in the arm for the Narendra Modi government. Now that he will be available to the CBI, the ‘real’ bribe-receivers of the AgustaWestland bribes scandal will be exposed,” Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said.
Claiming that Michel was “known to be a Gandhi-family loyalist”, Rao said, “his extradition and custody could spell serious trouble for the Congress’ first family”.
The Congress has denied all allegations against its leaders in connection with the deal.
With PTI inputs