Christian James Michel, a British businessman, was extradited to India from the United Arab Emirates on December 4. He is alleged to be the middleman in the ₹3,700 crore AgustaWestland helicopter deal bribery case. He is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for bribing public servants so that the contract for supply of 12 helicopters went to the U.K.-based AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica (now Leonardo SpA). It is alleged that €42.27 million (about ₹295 crore) was paid by the Finmeccanica group to Mr. Michel’s firms for the job.

How Is He Connected?

In 2006, the UPA government floated tenders to buy 12 VVIP helicopters. Six vendors participated in the process. In 2010, after clearances from the Finance Ministry, the €556.262 million contract was bagged by AgustaWestland. The CBI alleges that Mr. Michel entered into a criminal conspiracy with the co-accused and got the service ceiling of the helicopters reduced from 6,000 m to 4,500 m to ensure that Agusta could bid for the deal. In 2012, an initial probe by Italian authorities indicted Mr. Michel for international bribery. This was the first time reports of bribery in the deal surfaced. In February 2013, the Ministry of Defence asked the CBI to investigate the case after arrests and raids were carried out in Italy. In January 2014, months before the UPA went out of power, India terminated the contract and efforts were made to recover the money from Italy. The company delivered three helicopters, which are lying at the Palam airbase in Delhi.

What Went Wrong?

The scandal snowballed into a major fight between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2014 general election. The BJP accused the Gandhi family of receiving the kickbacks. According to the CBI, Mr. Michel had worked with Westland Helicopters (U.K.) since the 1980s. The agency said the middleman was a frequent visitor to India and had undertaken 300 trips between 1997 and 2013. He flew back to Dubai a few days before the CBI filed an FIR on March 12, 2013.

How Was He Apprehended?

In September 2015, a CBI court issued an open-ended non-bailable arrest warrant against Mr. Michel. In December 2015 and January 2016, red corner notices were issued against Mr. Michel through the Interpol. In September 2017, the CBI filed a chargesheet against the accused. The agency alleged a loss of about ₹2,666 crore to the exchequer. The extradition request was forwarded to the UAE on March 19, 2017. The Court of Cassation in the UAE held extradition proceedings and on November 19 last year, upheld the lower court’s decision on the possibility of extraditing him. He was handed over to Indian authorities on December 4. Several reports said his extradition was linked to India’s efforts at repatriating Princess Latifa, daughter of Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who had run away from home last year, accusing her father of illegal incarceration and torture. Indian Coast Guard commandos stormed a vessel, Nostromo, off Goa and took into custody Princess Latifa on March 4, 2018.

Where Is The Case Headed?

Mr. Michel, who was interrogated by the CBI, has not been of much help in establishing the money trail. He has remained tight-lipped and given contradictory statements. The ED, which is pursuing the money-laundering angle on the basis of the CBI case, has over the past three years unearthed the transactions made through several conduits including “shell” firms. The ED informed the court that Mr. Michel was not cooperating and was taking a lot of time to write answers to its questions. His lawyers have said he suffers from dyslexia.