A Dubai court has ordered the extradition of businessman Christian Michel, in a major development in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case. Michel is one of the alleged middlemen named by Enforcement Directorate.
The Enforcement Directorate had found out that the 51-year-old kingpin, who helped Finmeccanica executives to secure the VVIP chopper deal worth 3,600 crore, was paid a kickback of 26 million pounds.
Official sources told PTI that the court pronounced the judgement on Tuesday, 18 September after India had officially made the request to the gulf nation sometime back, based on the criminal investigations conducted in this case by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
The full contents of the order against Michel are expected to be known by Wednesday as the legal pronouncement is in Arabic and is being translated in English at the behest of Indian authorities, they said.
The order is being seen as a major shot in the arm to the agencies – Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and ED – probing the case.
WHAT DID THE ED ALLEGE?
The ED, in its chargesheet filed against Michel in June 2016, had alleged that he received, about Rs 225 crore, from AgustaWestland.
The money was nothing but “kickbacks” paid by the firm to execute the 12 helicopter deal in favour of the firm in “guise of” of genuine transactions for performing multiple work contracts in the country, it had said.
Michel is one of the three middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by the ED and the CBI. Both the agencies have notified an Interpol Red Corner notice (RCN) against him after the court issued a non-bailable warrant against him.
Michel has been extensively interviewed by the Indian media in Dubai in the past and both the agencies want him to join the probe to take the case forward.
AgustaWestland became eligible to supply the dozen helicopters for VVIP flying duties after this change.
WHAT DID THE INVESTIGATION UNCOVER?
The ED investigation found that remittances made by Michel through his Dubai-based firm Global Services to a media firm he floated in Delhi, along with two Indians, were made from the funds which he got from AgustaWestland through “criminal activity” and corruption being done in the chopper deal that led to the subsequent generation of proceeds of crime.
On 1 January 2014, India scrapped the contract with 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.
WHAT DID MICHEL ALLEGE AGAINST INDIAN PROBE AGENCIES?
In July 2018, after he was granted bail in Dubai, Michel accused Indian investigators of pressuring him to name UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and frame senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel in return for a clean chit in the multi-crore scam.
On 19 July, while he was in custody, his lawyer Rosemary Patrizi had made similar charges against the Indian probe agencies, although CBI had denied the allegations.
In early 2013, India struck a deal with helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland on the purchase of a new fleet of helicopters for VVIP’s.
However, several politicians and military officials have been accused of accepting bribes from AgustaWestland in order to win the ₹36 billion (US$500 million) Indian contract.