The Central Bureau of Investigation said on Tuesday that Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, is being extradited to India from the United Arab Emirates, ANI reported.
“Under the guidance of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the entire operation is being coordinated by Director In-Charge M Nageswara Rao,” the CBI said in a statement. The agency said a team led by CBI Joint Director A Sai Manohar has been sent to Dubai.
Michel’s lawyer Rosemary Patrizi told NDTV on Tuesday that the alleged middleman will be extradited from Dubai to India, and will reach New Delhi on a private flight later in the day. Last month, a court in the United Arab Emirates had upheld a lower court’s order, which allowed Michel’s extradition.
The AgustaWestland helicopter deal, which snowballed into a huge controversy, relates to an agreement that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government signed with the British-Italian firm in 2007. The deal was put on hold after Italy arrested the head of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland’s parent company, on charges of paying bribes to win the contract. Michel is one of three suspected middlemen who Indian investigative agencies believe brokered the deal.
In July, reports claimed Michel was being pressured by Indian agencies to frame Congress leader Sonia Gandhi in return for exoneration from criminal proceedings.
“Christian Michel entered into criminal conspiracy with co-accused persons and in pursuance thereof, the public servants had abused their official positions by reduction of service ceiling of the VVIPs helicopter from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres and a contract for an amount of Euro 556.262 million was awarded to AgustaWestland International Ltd (AWIL), UK, by the government of India through Ministry of Defence on 08.02.2010 for the procurement of 12 VVIP/non VVIP helicopters,” CBI spokesperson Abhishek Dayal was quoted as saying by PTI.
Soon after reports of the extradition emerged, the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed this could spell “serious trouble” for the Gandhi family, PTI reported. The ruling party also said that the extradition was a diplomatic victory for India, and an affirmation of the Narendra Modi-led government’s resolve to fight corruption.
“Extradition of Christian Michel is a shot in the arm for the Narendra Modi government,” BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said. “Now that he will be available to the Central Bureau of Investigation, the ‘real’ bribe-receivers of the AgustaWestland bribes scandal will be exposed.” Rao claimed that Michel was a “known Gandhi family loyalist”, and his extradition would be a major problem for the “first family”.