A day after he was extradited from the UAE to India in connection with the probe into the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, alleged middleman Christian Michel James was sent to CBI custody for five days by a Delhi special court Wednesday.
CBI Special Judge Arvind Kumar asked the CBI to produce Michel (57) on December 10 after the agency said it needed his custody to not only confront him with available evidence, but also to obtain details of the money trail and people involved in the deal which is being probed for alleged irregularities.
“Keeping in view the facts and circumstances, submissions made by the parties, I deem it fit to grant five days police (CBI) remand of accused,” the judge said. In his order, the judge said that the accused shall be entitled to assistance from his advocate during questioning.
Officials later said the CBI will question Michel on his 25 visits to India, before and after the signing of contract between India and AgustaWestland. The agency, officials said, had in its possession the audit documents filed by Michel before the UAE authorities as part of the annual audit of his companies being operated from Dubai.
“These documents were made available as part of the letter rogatory which was also used to secure Michel’s extradition,” an official said.
Earlier, CBI personnel encircled Michel and led him to the court room. His lawyers Aljo K Joseph and Vishnu Shankar opposed the remand application, saying there was no need for CBI remand since none of the documents, as claimed by the agency, have been produced in any international court.
Michel’s lawyers also said they were filing his bail application. But they did not press the matter after the judge asked whether they wanted the bail plea to be decided there and then or later. The bail application will now be considered on December 10, the next date of hearing.
CBI special prosecutor D P Singh pressed for a 14-day remand, saying their investigation revealed that the accused entered into 12 contracts through two of his firms, Global Trade & Commerce Ltd, London and Global Services FZE, Dubai, UAE, with Finmeccancia, AgustaWestland, Westland Helicopters UK and others “to legitimise the illicit commission on the procurement of VVIP helicopters by the Ministry of Defence”.
Singh said an amount of 42.7 million euros was paid by the Westland Group companies to the firms of the accused as bribe “without undertaking any work against the receipt” of amount.
“Custodial interrogation of accused is required to unearth the deep-rooted conspiracy and to identify the accomplices including Indian Air Force (IAF) officials, bureaucrats and politicians who were instrumental in changing the decisions, which made AgustaWestland eligible to participate in the bidding process and bagging it ultimately,” he said.
He said the accused had information on certain classified material and documents, and needed to be confronted with these. He also submitted that the money came into Michel’s account, and the CBI needed to find out where it had gone.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the British High Commission said of Michel: “Our staff continue to support the family of a British man following his detention in the UAE. We are in contact with his family and the Emirati authorities regarding his case, and are urgently seeking information from the Indian authorities on his circumstances.”