UAE court clears extradition of Briton wanted in India in AgustaWestland helicopter bribery case

54-year-old businessman sought by India fails to convince Dubai Appeal Court to reject extradition

Dubai: A Dubai court has agreed to extradite a British citizen to India where he is wanted for alleged commercial fraud, bribery and money laundering as part of investigations into a multi-million dollar helicopter purchase deal.

The Dubai Appeal Court approved a request by Indian authorities to extradite Christian James Michel, a 54-year-old British businessman, who has pleaded not guilty and refuted all the charges levelled against him in the extradition papers.

On September 2, presiding judge Eisa Al Sharif of the Dubai Appeal Court approved the extradition request after deciding that it is permissible to do so based on the Criminal Extradition Accord signed between the UAE and India.

Michel was out on bail when the ruling came out and it was not immediately clear if he was in custody. The court’s decision remains subject to appeal before the Cassation Court.

How it started

In February 2017, Indian authorities lodged an extradition request for Michel. He was subsequently arrested by Dubai Police and handed over to the Dubai Public Prosecution.

The case first came up for hearing in the Dubai court in July. Michel pleaded not guilty and refuted the accusations against him when questioned by Dubai prosecutors.

He is also believed to have argued before Dubai prosecutors that he was previously questioned over the same charges concerning a dodgy helicopters deal by Italian judicial authorities who acquitted him.

Released on bail

Senior prosecution sources told Gulf News that Michel also told Dubai prosecutors that the same case (involving the same charges) was dismissed against him by Italian prosecutors.

“Michel was later released on bail pending further papers that were requested from the Indian authorities for the extradition request. When three months passed and the requested papers weren’t received, prosecutors dismissed the extradition request and cancelled the arrest warrant against the suspect. Later, the requested papers were received through the justice ministry … the suspect was apprehended again and remained in custody over the same charges that he denied,” a source said.

As part of the Criminal Procedures Law, the extradition request was referred to the Dubai Appeal Court where Michel again pleaded not guilty.

The Briton and his lawyer asked the appellate court to reject the extradition request claiming that it was filed based on political motives.

Michel contended that he had been previously acquitted of all the alleged accusations mentioned in the extradition request and asked the bench of judges to dismiss the request due to time lapse.

The suspect and his lawyer also asked the appellate court to dismiss the request citing unusual conditions and lack of guarantees that he would be treated justly and humanely.

The appellate court studied the papers and documents submitted by Michel and his legal team and decided that they were insufficient to reject the extradition request.

Why India wants custody

The Indian government wants Michel’s custody in connection with a case dubbed by the Indian media as ‘Agusta-Westland helicopter bribery case’ involving the purchase of 12 helicopters worth around $638 million (Dh2.34 billion).

Indian authorities have named Michel as an alleged middleman who routed bribes allegedly paid by Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland to Indian politicians and officials in 2010.

Michel has been accused of receiving ₣30 million (Dh128.79 million) in kickbacks to act as a middleman, a charge denied by him.

Indian officials have also named India’s former air force chief S.P. Tyagi and his cousins in the case.

Tyagi was arrested earlier and released on bail by a New Delhi court on September 12. Besides Michel, Indian officials had issued warrants against two other Italian middlemen Carlo Gerosa and Guido Hashke.

The helicopter deal was cancelled by the Indian government in January 2014.

What is the AgustaWestland case?

The AgustaWestland case involves a 2010 contract signed by the Indian government for the purchase of 12 luxury helicopters for use by top leaders, including the president, prime minister and former prime ministers. In 2014, the government scrapped the contract amid allegations that the supplier AgustaWestland, whose parent company Finmeccanica ran into allegations of bribe-giving in Italy, had paid kickbacks in India.

Allegations against top politician

In this big defence kickback controversy, the role of then prime minister Manmohan Singh, then defence minister A.K. Antony, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi has been questioned.

Who is Christian Michel?

Christian Michel is a British businessman accused of being a middleman in the $638 million AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal.

– Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation.

– They were accused of infuencing Indian officials into reducing the service ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres in 2005, making AgustaWestland eligible to supply the helicopters.

– Both the agencies had notified an Interpol red corner notice against Michel after the court issued a non-bailable warrant against him.

– In July this year, Michel’s lawyer said he was being pressured by Indian agencies to frame Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.

The CBI, however, refuted the allegation and said its team had not examined him in the UAE at all.

Former Air Force Chief under scanner

Former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi, 72, was arrested in 2016 over allegations that he accepted bribes to tailor specifications at the instance of his cousins. He became the first ever military chief – former or current – to be arrested. After securing bail, he was facing investigation at home.

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