A UAE court has ordered the extradition of a British national to India, where he faces charges of being a middleman in a multi-million dollar defence procurement scandal.
Christian Michel, 54, did not appear in court in Dubai and his whereabouts are not known, his lawyer said.
The controversy, dating back to 2013, involved kickbacks given to key Indian government officials by AgustaWestland, an Italian helicopter firm. The bribes were intended to win AgustaWestland a contract to supply 12 helicopters at a contracted price of nearly $500 million.
The helicopter contract was cancelled in 2014. Shortly thereafter, the Congress Party-led government, which signed the contract, was voted out of power.
In Italy, the CEO of AgustaWestland’s parent company was first convicted of bribing Indian politicians and bureaucrats; on appeal, he was acquitted because of a lack of sufficient proof. In India, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has charged nine people – including a former air force chief – with corruption.
Mr Michel, whose extradition request was processed by the UAE, was one of three foreign middlemen named in the CBI’s charge sheet, which was filed last September. Mr Michel is accused of receiving approximately $35 million as kickbacks in return for playing the role of middleman and brokering the corrupt deal.
To use a middleman in a defence deal is not illegal, Gurmeet Kanwal, a retired army brigadier and the former director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank, told The National.
India’s procurement rules can be so byzantine that most foreign companies “feel like they need help.”
But a company must declare its middlemen, “which many companies don’t do,” Mr Kanwal said.
In 2016, India lodged an extradition request with the UAE, where Mr Michel has been living for the last five years. Interpol also issued a red notice against Mr Michel, flagging him as an individual wanted for prosecution in India.
In February 2017, a report was filed against Mr Michel at the Dubai Ports police station, and he was referred to prosecution in relation to charges of money laundering and abusing his position.
On July 8 this year, Mr Michel’s case was referred to the Dubai Appeals Court.
He appeared before the court for the first time on July 29, and on September 2, Issa Sharif, Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal, approved the request for extradition from a Dubai prosecutor, on behalf of the Indian government. The case only came to light this week.
Mr Michel’s whereabouts are unknown at the moment, his lawyer told the NDTV news channel on Wednesday.
“He will be arrested if found,” Amal Alsubei, Mr Michel’s lawyer, told India’s NDTV. “He is likely to appeal to the Supreme Court.”
“The treaty between UAE and India allows authorities of both countries to extradite anyone wanted for prosecution in the other country if the suspect’s crimes did not happen in any part of the UAE and only after a copy of his crimes’ detailed file had been submitted to the court here,” said Hassan Elhais, a legal columnist for The National a consultant with Dubai’s Al Rowad advocates.
Included in this provision are citizens of third countries, as in this case, where Mr Michel is a national of neither India nor the UAE.
But there are exceptions, Mr Elhais said. One is if the accused is a citizen of the country to which an extradition request was submitted; another is if the person’s crimes involved politics.
“The suspect is entitled to file a petition against the appeals decision before the cessation court within 30 days from the date of the court of appeals’ ruling, because unlike other types of cases, extradition only goes through two stages, the appeal and cessation courts,” Mr Elhais said.
If Mr Michel is successfully extradited, it will represent a small win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Mr Modi has come under fire for failing to bring a number of rich, absconding Indians home to face trial.
This list includes the liquor baron Vijay Mallya, who fled to London in 2016 after defaulting on billions of rupees’ worth of loans. A British court will deliver a verdict on India’s request to extradite Mr Mallya on December 10.