AgustaWestland scam: SC asks probe agencies how long will Christian Michel kept in custody

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: Expressing concerns at the pace with which CBI and ED was conducting trial against Christian James Michel, middleman who was allegedly responsible for illegal transactions in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked probe agencies whether it was justified to keep him behind bars and deprive James of his liberty due to his nationality. James was arrested and extradited from Dubai on December 4, 2018.

“We must share with you this concern, so you can reply. How long will you keep this man only because he is a foreign national? Ordinarily, if he was an Indian national who had already spent four-and-a-half years in jail and this was the stage of the prosecution, we would have been inclined to grant bail… Yes, he is a foreign national and brought him through extradition… But will that justify the complete deprivation of liberty?” A bench of CJI DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha asked ASG SV Raju for the probe agencies. 

Hearing Michael’s bail plea against DHC’s March 14 ruling, the court also referred to the complexity of the trial that involved 250 witnesses and 1280 documents of evidence. “The CBI has not been able to get even a single sanction for prosecuting accused government officials. The FIR dates back to 2013,” the bench also remarked. 

Michaels’ counsels, Advocates Aljio Joseph, Sriram Parakkat and Vishnu Shankar contended that Michel’s case was covered u/s 436A of CrPC and that he had covered 50% of his maximum sentence which according to section 8 and 9 of Prevention of Corruption Act was 5 years.

They further added that Michel could only be tried for the offence mentioned in the extradition treaty.

“Many foreign nationals who are similarly placed have been granted bail. Government officers too have been granted bail. There is violation of human rights and I have been extradited illegally,” he further added. 

On the other hand, ASG SV Raju for the probe agencies told the bench that James was chargesheeted under section 467 of IPC for forgery of valuable security which was punishable up to life imprisonment.

Delhi HC while dismissing his bail plea had observed that allegations against James were serious in nature.

“The allegations levelled against the applicant are serious in nature, for having committed a grave economic offence. He is reported to have transferred confidential information regarding the VVIP helicopters deal to AWIL, in order to influence the deal in its favor. He is also accused of having facilitated the payment of kickbacks/bribe amounts by AWIL to Indian bureaucrats, politicians, etc. in connection with the deal. For his services, he is alleged to have received Euro 30 million from AWIL, which amount is stated to have been routed further through his companies to coaccused persons/entities and later projected as untainted.”

The CBI had alleged that there was an estimated loss of Euro 398.21 million (about 2666 Crore) to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010 for the supply of VVIP choppers worth Euro 556.262 million. ED had then filed a chargesheet against Michel in June, 2016, alleging that he had received EUR 30 million (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland.

NEW DELHI: Expressing concerns at the pace with which CBI and ED was conducting trial against Christian James Michel, middleman who was allegedly responsible for illegal transactions in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked probe agencies whether it was justified to keep him behind bars and deprive James of his liberty due to his nationality. James was arrested and extradited from Dubai on December 4, 2018.

“We must share with you this concern, so you can reply. How long will you keep this man only because he is a foreign national? Ordinarily, if he was an Indian national who had already spent four-and-a-half years in jail and this was the stage of the prosecution, we would have been inclined to grant bail… Yes, he is a foreign national and brought him through extradition… But will that justify the complete deprivation of liberty?” A bench of CJI DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha asked ASG SV Raju for the probe agencies. 

Hearing Michael’s bail plea against DHC’s March 14 ruling, the court also referred to the complexity of the trial that involved 250 witnesses and 1280 documents of evidence. “The CBI has not been able to get even a single sanction for prosecuting accused government officials. The FIR dates back to 2013,” the bench also remarked. 

Michaels’ counsels, Advocates Aljio Joseph, Sriram Parakkat and Vishnu Shankar contended that Michel’s case was covered u/s 436A of CrPC and that he had covered 50% of his maximum sentence which according to section 8 and 9 of Prevention of Corruption Act was 5 years.

They further added that Michel could only be tried for the offence mentioned in the extradition treaty.

“Many foreign nationals who are similarly placed have been granted bail. Government officers too have been granted bail. There is violation of human rights and I have been extradited illegally,” he further added. 

On the other hand, ASG SV Raju for the probe agencies told the bench that James was chargesheeted under section 467 of IPC for forgery of valuable security which was punishable up to life imprisonment.

Delhi HC while dismissing his bail plea had observed that allegations against James were serious in nature.

“The allegations levelled against the applicant are serious in nature, for having committed a grave economic offence. He is reported to have transferred confidential information regarding the VVIP helicopters deal to AWIL, in order to influence the deal in its favor. He is also accused of having facilitated the payment of kickbacks/bribe amounts by AWIL to Indian bureaucrats, politicians, etc. in connection with the deal. For his services, he is alleged to have received Euro 30 million from AWIL, which amount is stated to have been routed further through his companies to coaccused persons/entities and later projected as untainted.”

The CBI had alleged that there was an estimated loss of Euro 398.21 million (about 2666 Crore) to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010 for the supply of VVIP choppers worth Euro 556.262 million. ED had then filed a chargesheet against Michel in June, 2016, alleging that he had received EUR 30 million (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland.