A routine hearing on extending the remand of Christian Michel, alleged to be the middleman in the Agusta Westland helicopter deal, at the Patiala House courts ended with the lawyer who represents him in international courts (but not India) fearing arrest, revelations that Michel underwrote the travel expenses of serving and retired Indian air force officers to facilitate the purchase, and with no clarity on consular access.
At the end of the dramatic hearing, Michel, who was extradited to India from Dubai on December 5, was remanded to the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for four more days (Saturday marked the end of his initial five-day remand).
In its remand note, the CBI claimed that its investigations had “revealed that Michel bore the air journey expenses of two serving/retired Air Force officials and their family members amounting to Rs 92.73 lakh during 2009 to 2013 (as per the statement of RK Nanda).”
Nanda is a Delhi-based businessman, and a close associate of Michel.
Michel, who allegedly organised bribes in exchange for a 2007 deal worth Rs 3,600 crore to purchase 12 luxury helicopters for use by top leaders, including the President, Prime Minister and former prime ministers, was detained by UAE authorities following an extradition request by India in June this year. India cancelled the chopper deal after bribery allegations surfaced in 2014.
Appearing for the investigating agency, Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) D P Singh informed special judge Arvind Kumar that CBI wants a further extension of Michel’s custody as it wants to take him to the premises of M/s Pawan Hans India Limited in Juhu, Mumbai and confront him with several facts and officials there.
CBI also informed the court that it had received voluminous quantities of documents from different countries pursuant to the Letter of Requests and that Michel has to be confronted with these.
Aljo K Joseph, counsel for Michel, argued that there was no incriminating material against the accused and his client had not done anything wrong. Rosemary Patrizi Dos Anjos, the counsel representing Michel in international courts, was also present and sought the court’s permission to meet Michel; the judge allowed her to meet Michel for 10 minutes in the courtroom itself.
Dos Anjos had, after Michel’s arrest, claimed in an interview to an Indian TV channel that Michel was arrested as part of a political conspiracy to frame leaders of the Congress party and that he was being pressured to implicate Sonia Gandhi, the United Progressive Alliance chairperson.
Interestingly, the CBI prosecutor aired a clip of this in court and said the agency might have to make Dos Anjos, who has represented him in Italy and Switzerland, a witness in the case.
Dos Anjos claimed that there was no bribery charge against Michel and even an Italian court had given him a clean chit. After the court denied her request to meet Michel in CBI headquarters, where he is being held, Dos Anjos tried to convince the Investigating officer (IO) to allow her to meet Michel. She said that she has all the documents that the CBI wants and that if it (CBI) helps her, she will help the agency.
She told reporters after the hearing that she fears being arrested and wants to safely reach her home in Italy.
There was no immediate response from Indian officials on the matter.
Meanwhile, Joseph informed the court that the British high commission is yet to receive a communication on consular access to Michel, a British national, from the Centre. He urged the court that the process of consular access be expedited. CBI said it had already sent a no objection certificate to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) and that it was up to the ministry now.
The court will next hear the matter on December 19.
First Published: Dec 16, 2018 00:00 IST
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