AgustaWestland helicopter scam accused Christian Michel‘s Delhi lawyer, Aljo Joseph, claimed on Thursday that Michel had been “kidnapped” and brought to India from Dubai in the same way that Mehul Choksi “was being kidnapped from Dominica”.
“Princess Latifa was handed over to the Dubai government as a quid pro pro for Michel and it was a kidnapping. That was upheld by the UN — the question is whether democratic countries working like this in quid pro pro and kidnapping can be permitted. Today what is happening in Dominica, again another kidnapping incident by the Indian government regarding Mehul Choksi,” Joseph claimed at a Zoom press conference alongside Michel’s sons on Thursday.
In New Delhi, senior ED officials debunked the charges levelled by Michel’s family, saying this was not the first time such claims had been made. Courts in India have repeatedly rejected Michel’s bail applications where he had made these claims, including that he was “abducted”, was not safe in Indian jails due to the Covid-19 outbreak, and about not getting a fair trial, sources said.
According to the ED chargesheet, AgustaWestland International Ltd, the UK subsidiary of Finmeccanica, paid euro 58 million (around Rs 423 crore) as kickbacks through Gordian Services Sarl, Tunisia and IDS Sarl, Tunisia. The money was further layered through multiple transactions in companies registered in different tax havens, including Tunisia, Mauritius, Dubai and Switzerland, and finally moved to beneficiaries in New Delhi, officials said.
During its investigation, the ED had claimed Michel had routed more than Rs 6 crore to India, in Media Exim Pvt Ltd, a shell company, through his Dubai-based entity, Global Services FZE. The proceeds were then used to buy properties in Gurugram and Delhi, it had claimed. The ED has attached all these assets.
Joseph accused the Indian government of “moving from a democratic set-up to totalitarianism”. “In India all international extradition cases are prosecuted because of political reasons other than the legal reasons,” he alleged.
On November 27, 2020, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had issued an opinion ruling that Michel, who is in Tihar jail, was being arbitrarily detained by India and that “there was no legal basis for his arrest and detention” in Dubai and forced transfer to India. The UN called on India to release him by May 27, 2021. India at the time had said the opinion ruling was not legally binding. Michel has not been released.
Michel’s French lawyer, François Zimeray, former French ambassador and MEP, speaking at the same event, called for the EU-India trade deal to be suspended since India had ignored the UN’s calls for Michel’s immediate release. “He was a European citizen when first detained arbitrarily so I will inform the EU and this could lead to a suspension of trade agreements between the EU and India. All our trade agreements are based on the assumption that fundamental rights are shared and respected and this is not the case. As a former diplomat I know how important political intervention can be in such cases. Michel has been jailed for political reasons. The (UN) opinion is not binding in itself but the opinion has highlighted violations of laws and treaties which are binding for India because they are part of the constitutional body of the Indian Republic,” Zimeray said.
“We are forgetting the real victims — apart from my father who is rotting in jail right now, those victims are my mother, brother, and sister aged 17,” said Michel’s eldest son Alaric (26), who lives in the UK.
Michel has not had phone contact with his family or lawyers for several weeks as the phone line in his prison has been disconnected as the phone bills have not been paid.
“We don’t understand why they are doing this to him. I’m extremely concerned about his well-being and we have all seen the rising Covid cases in India, and he is locked up in isolation with real criminals and I have heard he is being undernourished and access to water is tough,” Alaric said. “We can’t even go and see him as we are all scared of what could happen if we do. I am imploring the UK government (to) protect one of its own citizens from being unlawfully treated,” Alaric said. “This isn’t any old man who just went to India. He spent 40 years of his life in India and basically sees it as his home country.”
His brother Alois Michel (24), who lives in France with his sister and mother, said: “Since the age of 24 my father has lived almost half of his life in India. He loves India. It is really sad to see how he is now.”
Michel was arrested in Dubai by the UAE authorities and extradited to India on December 4, 2018 in what his family and lawyers say was an exchange as part of quid pro pro for India returning Princess Latifa to Dubai in March 2018 after she had tried to escape her family. Indian authorities accuse Michel of paying bribes to Indian officials in connection with the conclusion of an €556.2 million contract between AgustaWestland and the defence ministry for 12 helicopters in 2010.