In a setback to efforts to extradite British national Christian Michel James -- one of the alleged middlemen in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case -- Indian authorities failed to produce any evidence before the UAE courts within the stipulated time, according to the lawyer of the accused.
The Indian government was supposed to produce evidence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) court by May 19, 2018 against Michel. "But the government did not present any evidence," Michel's lawyer, Rosemary Patrizi Dos Anjos, told IANS over phone from Milan in Italy.
She said the government "does not have any evidence against" him and therefore its officials were unable to produce any, adding that there was "no evidence against Michel in Italy, Switzerland or India."
Dos Anjos said the Indian government was given a further time of 45 days by the UAE court at its next hearing to produce evidence out of which 30 days had already expired without any movement.
Dos Anjos also said that Michel was questioned by CBI officials in Dubai a month ago. Michel is still in the UAE, according to her.
In January this year, the ED had lodged a request with the UAE authorities for extraditing Michel. Both the ED and the CBI had filed chargesheets in bribery cases in Indian courts and non-bailable warrants had been issued against the accused.
According to Indian investigative agencies, Michel had received at least Rs 235 crore for ensuring that the chopper contract went to AgustaWestland. He was a frequent visitor to India, having undertaken 300 trips to this country between 1997 and 2013.
ED sources said that bribes to Michel were paid through a web of companies located abroad and in India on the pretext of payment for consultancy work. He also used his Dubai-based firm Global Services FZE as a conduit for money.
In its chargesheet, the CBI had named former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi, alias Julie, the then IAF Vice Chief J.S. Gujral and advocate Gautam Khaitan as the four Indians involved in the scam. The chargesheet mentioned Khaitan as the "brain" behind the deal.
Others named in the chargesheet included Giuseppe Orsi, the former chief of Italian defence and aerospace major Finmeccanica and Bruno Spagnolini, former CEO of AgustaWestland, apart from middlemen Michel, Haschke and Gerosa.
On January 1, 2014, India cancelled the contract with Finmeccanica's British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF, over alleged breach of contractual obligations and on charges of paying kickbacks amounting to Rs 423 crore.
The CBI, which registered an FIR in the case on March 12, 2013, had alleged that Tyagi and the other accused received kickbacks from AgustaWestland to help it win the contract. The FIR mentioned charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and those under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
According to the CBI, Tyagi allegedly took bribes of several crores from AgustaWestland through the middlemen -- and a complex set of companies in several countries -- to change the specifications of the contract. The operational flight ceiling of the choppers was reduced from 6,000 metres, as originally proposed, to 4,500 metres and the cabin height was brought down to 1.8 metres.
The twin modifications were allegedly meant to rig the deal in favour of AgustaWestland, which eventually walked away with the order to supply the 12 choppers for the Communication Squadron of the IAF for ferrying the President, the Prime Minister and other VVIPs.
The CBI probe revealed that several payments were made to the Tyagis by Haschke, Gerosa and Michel.
Tyagi, who was IAF chief from 2004 to 2007, his cousin and Khaitan were arrested in December last year by the agency. They are now out on bail.
(Anand Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)