Christian James Michel, an alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland chopper scam, on Thursday told the Delhi High Court that just because he was a British citizen and did not have “deep roots” in the Indian society that cannot be a ground for the trial court to deny him bail, Live Law reported.
Michel, a British aviation consultant, was arrested on December 22, 2018. Investigators had alleged that he was involved in the 2010 sale of the VVIP helicopters to the Indian government. He was extradited from Dubai and is currently lodged in Tihar Jail.
The Central Bureau of Investigation is looking into corruption allegations, while the Enforcement Directorate is inquiring money laundering case related to the AgustaWestland chopper scam.
At Thursday’s hearing, Advocate Aljo K Joseph, appearing for Michel, told Justice Manoj Kumar Ohri that all the accused persons in the cases have been released on bail.
“This cannot be a criteria that I do not have deep roots in the society therefore I cannot get bail,” the advocate added. “It is my responsibility and duty to prove my innocence after three years of pre trial detention. The investigation in the matter has been going on since last 8 years which we don’t know when it is likely to conclude, both by [the] CBI and ED.”
Michel’s counsel also said that he had already spent three years in judicial custody and even if he was found guilty, he could only get maximum punishment of five years.
Joseph pointed out that the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which functions under the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, had in February urged authorities to release Michel after it concluded that he had been held in India arbitrarily since 2018.
The Centre, however, had said that the conclusions drawn by the global body were biased, based on limited information and had an inaccurate understanding of the country’s criminal justice system.
During Thursday’s hearing, Michel reiterated that he was extradited to India by the United Arab Emirates in December 2018 in exchange for the return of Sheikha Latifa, the estranged daughter of the ruler of Dubai. Latifa was captured off the coast of India on March 4, 2018, after an operation by special forces and taken back to Dubai on the instructions of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
In October, Michel even wrote a nine-page letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, accusing his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi of being responsible for the abduction of Latifa, The Wire reported.
Michel also warned that he would remain on a hunger strike till the United Kingdom government took action to ensure his release.
After hearing Michel’s submissions, the High Court judge posted the case for hearing on December 8.
Michel has challenged the June 18 order of the trial court saying that “the stage” was not fit to grant him bail.
In his bail applications in cases filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate, Michel had submitted that he was not required for the investigations and expressed his willingness to cooperate with the inquiry.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had signed the Rs 3,565-crore helicopter deal in 2010 with the British-Italian firm AgustaWestland. Following Italy’s arrest of the head of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland’s parent company, on charges of paying bribes to win the contract, the deal was put on hold.