Will Christian Michel spell trouble for erstwhile UPA?

Even as a sense of smug satisfaction descends over the BJP over the extradition of British arms middleman Christian Michel from the UAE in connection with the Augusta Westland helicopter scandal, following statements made by Michel’s lawyer Rosemarz Patrizi, the indication is that the BJP might not get the expected political mileage from the development at a time when it finds itself on the back foot in an upcoming election year.

The political utility of Michel to the BJP is largely limited to whether his interrogation directly leads to the upper echelons of the Congress in the AgustaWestland scandal in which a former air force chief is already in the dock.  It all depends on how much he is willing to reveal.

His lawyer Patrizi speaking to CNN-IBN has said that no investigation in any country including Switzerland, Italy and India has proved his involvement. Going by Patrizi’s statement, Michel is not going to do anything that will compromise his position in other countries over charges of corruption. This includes not naming Indian politicians, if any, involved in the corruption scandal in India.

The lawyer has also indicated that Michel’s  importance is limited to that of only an employee, giving him enormous leeway to claim ignorance about various aspects of the deal. As his lawyer has stated, Michel has been an employee for over 30 years and will also be represented by a team of top lawyers.

Late last night, Christian Michel James, a British national and a middleman, was extradited to India by the United Arab Emirates, a development that comes as a boost to Indian agencies investigating the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case.

“Wanted fugitive criminal Christian Michel James who has been avoiding criminal proceedings in India in AgustaWestland case is being extradited by UAE Authorities to India. Under the guidance of Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor (NSA), the entire operation is being coordinated by interim CBI Director M. Nageswara Rao,” CBI said in a presse note.

The action comes after the Court of Cassation in UAE had in November upheld a lower court order which said that James,57, could be extradited to India.

According to the report, James was kept under detention at the Dubai Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) as per the Indian government’s request. The extradition is undertaken in coordination with the Interpol and CID.

James is one of three middlemen being probed in the case by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the scam.

In January, the ED had lodged a request with the UAE authorities for extraditing James. Both the ED and 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 James by the Interpol on a request by CBI. RCNs were also issued against two Italians involved in the scam — Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke.

According to Indian investigative agencies, James 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.

The ED officials earlier had said that bribes to James were paid through a web of companies located abroad and in India on the pretext of payment for consultancy work. James 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 S.P. Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi alias Julie, then IAF Vice Chief J.S. Gujral and advocate Gautam Khaitan as the four Indians involved in the scam.

The charge=sheet mentioned Khaitan as the “brain” behind the deal.

The 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 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.

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