British middleman held in India over scandal-hit helicopter deal following extradition from Dubai
- Christian Michel is accused of arranging kickbacks for Indian officials to secure the lucrative deal worth US$630 million in 2010
A British national accused of being the middleman in a dicey helicopter deal between India and an Anglo-Italian firm was remanded in custody on Wednesday after being extradited by the United Arab Emirates.
Christian Michel stands accused of arranging kickbacks to Indian officials to secure a deal for AgustaWestland to supply New Delhi with 12 helicopters for €556 million (US$630 million) in 2010.
Brought in from the UAE late on Tuesday, Michel appeared in a Delhi court amid tight security. He will remain in police custody for five days initially and be allowed to meet his lawyer for one hour twice a day during this period, lawyers said.
Italian prosecutors suspect illegal sweeteners worth about 10 per cent of the contract, or some €55 million (US$62 million), were paid out in bribes. India cancelled the deal in January 2014.
Michel, who has denied any wrongdoing, was detained in Dubai in February 2017 following an Indian arrest warrant and an Interpol notice.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to capitalise politically on the scandal as the contract was signed under the previous government of the Congress party.
Addressing a rally in the northwestern state of Rajasthan on Wednesday, Modi said: “We have brought back the middleman. He will spill the beans.”
The BJP said on Tuesday that the case could spell “serious trouble” for the “first family” of Congress, referring to the party’s long-powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Indian media reported.
The Congress party had earlier contended that the BJP government managed to force Michel to sign a false confession naming its former party chief Sonia Gandhi in exchange for exoneration of any charges.
In Italy, the former head of AgustaWestland and of parent company Finmeccanica were given jail sentences in 2014 over the scandal, but were later acquitted.