In a setback to extradite British national Christian Michel James – one of the alleged middlemen in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case – Indian authorities failed to produce any evidence before the UAE courts within the stipulated time, according to the lawyer of the accused.
The Indian government was supposed to produce evidence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) court by May 19, 2018, against Michel. "But the government did not present any evidence," Michel's lawyer, Rosemary Patrizi Dos Anjos, told IANS over the phone from Milan in Italy.
She said the government "does not have any evidence against" him and therefore its officials were unable to produce any, adding that there was "no evidence against Michel in Italy, Switzerland or India."
Dos Anjos said the Indian government was given a further time of 45 days by the UAE court at its next hearing to produce evidence out of which 30 days had already expired without any movement.
Dos Anjos also said that Michel was questioned by CBI officials in Dubai a month ago. Michel is still in the UAE, according to her. Neither the Enforcement Directorate (ED) nor the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was willing to comment on the case.
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 S.P. Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi, alias Julie, the 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.
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.
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.