Christian Michel James, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland helicopter scam, was constantly under watch by UAE and Indian intelligence agents in Dubai for the past one year and could not shake them off even as he tried to escape the emirate at least a couple of times by changing his appearance (see picture) and taking the underworld’s help, sources have told Strategic News International.
Arrested in February 2017 based on an open dated, non-bailable arrest warrant issued by the Interpol based on a request by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Michel was granted bail in September 2017 by the prosecutor but was told to remain in the UAE.
Since then, Michel was under almost round-the-clock surveillance by Indian operatives. For India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), this was another big ‘success’ after its behind-the-scene but crucial work in the Maldives over the past eight months. The smooth coordination between R&AW, other Indian agencies and UAE authorities to keep tabs on Michel was facilitated by the excellent relations India has established with UAE’s ruling dispensation in the past three years.
India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, with his deep and old contacts in the Gulf, made sure that any hurdles in getting Michel extradited were removed quickly. Confirming Doval’s role in the matter, the CBI said on Tuesday: “Christian Michel James who has been avoiding criminal proceedings in India in the AgustaWestland Case is being extradited by UAE authorities to India under the guidance of Ajit Doval”.
In fact, the NSA was monitoring the case in the last few weeks very closely and is even reported to have made a quick trip to Dubai between his visit to Singapore ( 13-15 November, for the ASEAN summit) and the trip to Male on 17 November to tie up any loose ends in the case. Doval had also pulled out of the Indian delegation to the G20 summit at Buenos Aires last week at the last moment to stay and make sure there was no last-minute hitch in the Michel extradition case.
Sources in the government point out that India-UAE relations have never been better as they have been in the past three years, thanks to a realisation in both capitals that there is a lot of convergence of interests between the two countries.
Michel’s extradition to India on Tuesday night after going through the UAE legal process is seen as one prime example of improved cooperation and co-ordination between Abu Dhabi and New Delhi.
Michel, who was sent to CBI custody for five days by a court in New Delhi on Wednesday, is the main accused in the Rs 3600-crore VVIP or AgustaWestland helicopter scam. While the entire operation had been coordinated by interim director M. Nageswara Rao, a team lead by A. Sai Manohar, the joint director of CBI, accompanied Michel from Dubai.
The CBI filed its first charge sheet in the AgustaWestland scam in September 2017, in which it alleged that Christian Michel, through his companies, received 42.27 million euros for the purpose of payment for service and consultancy contracts in 2010-11.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), in its charge sheet filed against Michel in June 2016, alleged that he received 30 million euros (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland.
The money, ED alleged, was “kickbacks” paid by the firm to execute the 12-helicopter deal in favour of the firm in “guise of” of genuine transactions for performing multiple work contracts in the country.
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