A court in the UAE Tuesday ordered the extradition of Christian Michel, a key accused in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP choppers deal case, it is learnt. The order was issued based on extradition requests sent by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), probing the alleged kickbacks paid to swing the deal to buy 12 VVIP choppers in favour of AgustaWestland.
“An order has come. It is in Arabic. But it seems it (extradition) has been done,” a senior agency official said, requesting anonymity. Requests were sent to the UAE, where Michel has been staying, last year.
Michel has the option of appeal and may not be extradited immediately, sources said.
Michel was arrested last year by UAE authorities after a request from India to extradite him. He was also detained recently for 45 days by authorities when he made a sensational claim through his lawyer of being put under pressure to name members of the Gandhi family in the scam. The CBI has denied the allegations.
READ | Who is Christian Michel?
A key suspect in the AgustaWestland case, according to CBI and ED, Michel was the middleman responsible for establishing contact with bureaucrats and politicians to swing the VVIP chopper deal in favour of AgustaWestland.
In a prosecution complaint filed last year, the ED had alleged that Michel had paid several people in cash. In June, the ED told a Delhi special court that Michel allegedly received Euro 30 million as kickbacks and sent cash packets to various people through his driver and regularly met Indian individuals, including cousins of former Air Force chief S P Tyagi, while brokering the deal.
In July, Michel’s lawyer Rosemary Patrizi and his sister Sasha Ozeman had said that Michel had been detained by authorities in Dubai and that CBI officials had interrogated him. They claimed that the officials had put pressure on him to sign on a confession that said he had met UPA chairperson and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi when the deal was being negotiated.
Responding to a questionnaire sent by The Indian Express, the CBI had said, “Christian Michel James was arrested in February 2017 by UAE. He was not arrested this year as claimed by the defence lawyer. CBI team has not examined the fugitive Christian Michel James nor has it influenced or pressurised him to extract a confession. The extradition proceedings against the fugitive are going on in UAE and the request for the extradition is being followed up.”
The CBI had filed an FIR in the case on March 14, 2013, after a preliminary enquiry. The FIR named Tyagi and 12 other individuals as accused, besides four companies – Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland, IDS Infotech and Aeromatrix.
Individuals named in the FIR include Finmeccanica officials Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini, the Tyagi family, alleged middlemen Carlo Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guido Haschke, advocate Gautam Khaitan, formerly associated with Aeromatrix, and its CEO Praveen Bakshi.
The Gandhi family name surfaced after the recovery of a handwritten note from the possession of Haschke, where certain payment was mentioned against the word “family”. Michel has called this note to be fake.
According to investigations conducted by CBI and ED, in the offset category (work to be mandatorily done in India), AgustaWestland set aside Euro 70 million to be transferred to the companies floated by two groups of alleged middlemen – one led by Haschke and Carlo Gerosa and the other by Michel.
“The real deal was, however, that of the Euro 70 million, only 30 per cent would be utilised for actual work including engineering services and media handling while the rest would be diverted to pay bribes,” an investigator said.
To facilitate this, a maze of companies was created to move money across borders and camouflage bribes. While Michel set up Global Services FZE in Dubai, Haschke set up IDS Tunisia, IDS Mauritius and Aeromatrix. Michel was supposed to get Euro 42 million while Haschke was to be given Euro 28 million, investigators claimed.