The Ministry of External Affairs on Friday rejected the submissions made by a United Nations panel that India had arbitrarily detained Christian Michel James since 2018, saying the conclusions drawn by the global body were biased, based on limited information and an inaccurate understanding of the country’s criminal justice system.

James, a British aviation consultant, was arrested in connection with the AgustaWestland chopper scam on December 22, 2018. Investigators had alleged that Michel was involved in the 2010 sale of the VVIP helicopters to the Indian government. The alleged middleman was extradited from Dubai, and is currently lodged in Tihar Jail.

Reports on Friday said that the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which functions under the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, urged authorities to release Michel after it concluded that he had been held in India arbitrarily since 2018.

In an order, which has not officially been released yet, the UN body reportedly asserted that the United Arab Emirates had unlawfully arrested, and handed over Michel to the Indian government. It raised concerns that Michel’s extradition “was a de facto swap” for India’s capture and return of a high-profile detainee to Dubai in March 2018, without providing more detail, according to AFP.

The panel has recommended that the Government of India release Michel “immediately” and that both the Indian and UAE authorities, grant him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations in accordance with international law, according to The Wire.

“The violations of the right to a fair trial and due process are of such gravity as to give Mr Michel’s deprivation of liberty an arbitrary character,” the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said. It has also referred the matter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture for further action, according to the website.

India’s response

India has rejected the UN panel’s indictment, and the “selective leaks” of its order even before its official release. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that New Delhi “would like to make it clear” that the Working Group is not a judicial body, and therefore, its opinions “are not legally binding on the Member States”.

“We regret that the conclusions drawn by the Working Group are based on limited information, biased allegations from an unidentified source and on an inaccurate understanding of India’s criminal justice system,” Srivastava added.

Underlining that the extradition, arrest and custody were in accordance with the Extradition Treaty and due process of law, the MEA said Michel had never been denied his rights to legal counsel, consular access or a fair hearing.

“The fact that he has been able to approach Courts on multiple occasions including the higher judiciary is itself proof of this,” the foreign ministry official added. “There have also been no restrictions on consular access by the authorities.”

Srivastava added that Michel has been treated at “par as other detainees and provided all facilities by the prison authorities as per rules”.

He said that India has a “robust grievance redressal mechanisms against allegations of violations of human rights in a vibrant and independent judiciary and a ‘category A’ National Human Rights Commission compliant with the Paris Principles”.

“The allegations which form the basis of the opinion rendered by the Working Group are contrary to facts,” the MEA said. “The Government of India therefore, rejects the opinion rendered by the Working Group.”