Hours after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj discussed the extradition of Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal, with her counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Michel was extradited to India Tuesday night, the CBI said.
The 57-year-old British national is expected to be produced in court tomorrow. “A team lead by A. Sai Manohar, Joint Director in CBI has been to Dubai for the purpose”, the CBI said. “Under the guidance of Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor (NSA), the entire operation is being coordinated by in-charge Director CBI M Nageswara Rao,” the agency spokesperson said.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court is going to hear the matter regarding CBI director Alok Verma on Wednesday.
Michel was among the alleged middlemen who had 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.
“An amount of Euro 42.27million was paid by the Finmeccanica Group to the firms of Christian Michel James as kickbacks or bribe without undertaking any work against the receipt of such amount… (He) will be examined with respect to his involvement in the case and confronted with documents recovered during raids by Swiss Authorities and received by CBI…indicating the bribes paid by him to the Indian Authorities for securing the contract for supply of VVIP Helicopters from M/s AgustaWestland,” the CBI said.
In 1999, the Indian Air Force floated a proposal for acquisition of 12 VVIP helicopters to ferry top government functionaries. In 2010, the deal was granted to AgustaWestland for over Rs 3,600 crore. This was, however, 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 win the bid for which bribes were allegedly paid.
The CBI filed an FIR on March 14, 2013, 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 Enforcement Directorate too began investigations under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Investigators alleged that while Gerosa and Haschke paid off members of the Tyagi family, Michel was dealing with Ministry of Defence bureaucrats and politicians.
That’s why Indian agencies were chasing Michel. In the run-up to elections, his arrival is expected to create a political storm, since Italian probe authorities claim to have discovered a handwritten note that mentioned payments against code words such as “pol”, “Bur” and “Family”. Michel, however, has claimed the note was fake and prepared by Haschke.
Michel’s extradition comes six years after his alleged involvement in the purchase of VVIP helicopters first surfaced in 2012.
Initially, “the investigation conducted by Italian Authorities indicted him for offences of international bribery or corruption. CBI took up the investigation and wanted him for investigation. However, he escaped from India and has been deliberately evading his presence from the investigating agency and also the due process of law in India.
Hence, an open non-bailable arrest warrant dated 24.09.2015 was issued on September 24, 2015 by the CBI Special Judge at Patiala House Court in New Delhi,” the CBI said.
On the basis of the non-bailable arrest warrant, Interpol put out a Red Notice on November 25, 2015. He was finally arrested by the UAE authorities in February 2017.
The CBI filed a chargesheet in the court on September 1, 2017 against Michel and 11 others. The CBI’s request for extradition was forwarded to the UAE authorities on March 19, 2017.
“On November 19 this year, the Court of Dubai upheld the lower court decision for possibility of extraditing him to Indian Authorities. Accordingly, Michel was extradited to face legal proceedings, the agency said.
It added that Michel updated Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland management, namely Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini and others, on his his efforts to secure the contract, the CBI said.
In July 2006, a meeting was held in Cascina Costa, Italy, where AgustaWestland’s commercial manager Renzo Lunardi proposed that Michel join Haschke and Gerosa in carrying out “scouting and monitoring activities” in India linked to the acquisition of helicopters keeping in view his “knowledge of Indian military operational mechanism”, the CBI said. During this meeting, they negotiated a fee equal to 7 per cent of the supply contract to cover expenses and fees.
Michel allegedly entered into as many as 12 contracts through two of his firms namely, Global Trade & Commerce Ltd. London, and Global Services FZE, Dubai, UAE, with Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland, Westland Helicopters UK to legitimise the illicit commission, the CBI said.
In July this year, Michel’s lawyer Rosemary Patrizi and his sister Sasha Ozeman told media that Michel had been detained by authorities in Dubai and CBI officials had interrogated him. They claimed the officials had put pressure on him to sign a confession that said he had met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi when the deal was being negotiated. The CBI said it neither examined Michel nor pressured him to extract a confession.
Michel has, in the past, denied having met any member of the Gandhi family in connection with the case.