New Delhi: In a major development, the Dubai government has passed an order to extradite British businessman Christian James Michel to India where he is wanted over charges of money laundering, bribery and fraud in connection with the Rs 3,700 crore AgustaWestland chopper case, suggested media reports on Tuesday.
Michel’s extradition could come as a shot in the arm for the Narendra Modi government as the alleged middleman could spill the beans on Indian politicians and bureaucrats who paid bribes in the multi-billion deal.
Earlier on November 29, the UAE envoy to India had said that the extradition of Christian Michel, a British national and alleged middleman should be left to the UAE’s judicial system.
Earlier this month, a top Dubai court upheld a lower court’s order to consider the possibility of extraditing Michel Michel, 54, is currently behind bars in Dubai since he was arrested and sent into custody pending the legal and judicial procedure in the UAE.
The Dubai Court of Cassation dismissed the two objections filed by Michel’s lawyers and upheld the appellate court’s decision to consider the possibility of extraditing him to the competent Indian authorities.
In January this year, the ED had lodged a request with the UAE authorities for extraditing Michel. Both the ED and the CBI had filed charge sheets in bribery cases in Indian courts and non-bailable warrants had been issued against the accused.
Last year, a red corner notice was issued against Michel by the Interpol on a request by the CBI. RCNs were also issued against two Italians involved in the scam — Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke.
According to Indian investigative agencies, Michel had received at least Rs 235 crore for ensuring that the chopper contract went to AgustaWestland. He was a frequent visitor to India, having undertaken 300 trips to this country between 1997 and 2013.
ED sources said that bribes to Michel were paid through a web of companies located abroad and in India on the pretext of payment for consultancy work. He also used his Dubai-based firm Global Services FZE as a conduit for money.
In its charge sheet, the CBI had named former Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi, alias Julie, the then IAF Vice Chief JS Gujral and advocate Gautam Khaitan as the four Indians involved in the scam. The charge sheet mentioned Khaitan as the “brain” behind the deal.
Others named in the charge sheet included Giuseppe Orsi, the former chief of Italian defence and aerospace major Finmeccanica and Bruno Spagnolini, former CEO of AgustaWestland, apart from middlemen Michel, Haschke, and Gerosa.
On January 1, 2014, India cancelled the contract with Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF, over an alleged breach of contractual obligations and on charges of paying kickbacks amounting to Rs 423 crore.
The CBI, which registered an FIR in the case on March 12, 2013, had alleged that Tyagi and the other accused received kickbacks from AgustaWestland to help it win the contract. The FIR mentioned charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and those under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
According to the CBI, Tyagi allegedly took bribes of several crores from AgustaWestland through the middlemen — and a complex set of companies in several countries — to change the specifications of the contract. The operational flight ceiling of the choppers was reduced from 6,000 metres, as originally proposed, to 4,500 metres and the cabin height was brought down to 1.8 metres.
The twin modifications were allegedly meant to rig the deal in favour of AgustaWestland, which eventually walked away with the order to supply the 12 choppers for the Communication Squadron of the IAF for ferrying the President, the Prime Minister and other VVIPs.
The CBI probe revealed that several payments were made to the Tyagis by Haschke, Gerosa, and Michel. Tyagi, who was IAF chief from 2004 to 2007, his cousin and Khaitan were arrested in December last year by the agency. They are now out on bail.