The judge, who was hearing the British national's bail plea in the CBI case, asked the counsel for the probe agency to respond to the aspect of maximum punishment in case of conviction

NEW DELHI: Christian Michel James, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland chopper deal case, Thursday urged the Delhi High Court to release him on bail, saying he has already spent three years in judicial custody and even if he is found guilty, he can only be given maximum imprisonment of five years.

James, who was extradited to India in late 2018, told Justice Manoj Kumar Ohri that from 2003 to 2010, when the alleged offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act are stated to have been committed, the maximum punishment was a five-year term and the amendment, which enhanced the punishment (to seven years), was introduced only in 2014.

"I was arrested and kept in Dubai for 100 days. I came to India in December 2018. I was extradited and brought to India. I have completed three years in judicial custody," advocate Aljo K Joseph, representing James, said.

"The FIR is in 2013. Each offence by me under the Prevention of Corruption Act stood in 2010 or before. Maximum punishment thus is five years. Amendment came on January 16, 2014," he added.

The judge, who was hearing the British national's bail plea in the CBI case, asked the counsel for the probe agency to respond to the aspect of maximum punishment in case of conviction when he commences his submissions and posted the next hearing on December 8.

Special prosecutor DP Singh, representing the prosecution, responded that James has also been charged with other substantive offences. Counsel for James contended that he has "nothing to do" with the purchase of VVIP choppers and highlighted that even after years of investigation- which started in 2013, "nothing has come out".

The lawyer also submitted that even a working group of the United Nations has raised concerns concerning his "arbitrary detention".

He further claimed that not having deep roots in the society can't be a reason to deny bail to the British national. In his plea before the high court, James has challenged the June 18 order of the trial court refusing to release him on bail in the case, noting that the stage was not fit to grant him bail.

The trial court, while dismissing the bail pleas in both the CBI and ED cases, had said that considering the overall facts and circumstances, serious nature of accusations, the gravity of the offence, and the conduct of the accused, it did not consider it to be a fit case for grant of bail.

The trial court had also taken strong note of the British High Commission directly communicating to the court about James without moving an application, saying it was not permissible. It had noted that the British High Commission had sent a letter addressed to the court stating that the medical condition of accused Christian Michel James and his pre-trial detention of two and half years may be taken into account when his bail application is considered.

In his bail applications in both the CBI and ED cases, the accused had said he was not required for investigation and expressed willingness to cooperate with the probe. The applications had said that the accused never sought to evade the process of law and that no purpose will be served by keeping him in further custody.

The pleas had claimed James did not attempt to tamper with documentary evidence or to obstruct the judicial process in any other manner.

The Rs 3,600-crore alleged scam relates to the purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters from AgustaWestland.

James, extradited from Dubai, was arrested by the ED on December 22, 2018.

On January 5, 2019, he was sent to judicial custody in the ED case.

He is also lodged in judicial custody in another case registered by the CBI in connection with the scam.

James is among the three alleged middlemen being probed in the case by the ED and the CBI.

The other two are Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.

The ED, in its charge sheet filed against James in June 2016, had alleged that he had received 30 million euros (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland.

The CBI, in its charge sheet, has alleged an estimated loss of 398.21 million euros (about Rs 2,666 crore) to the exchequer due to the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010, for the supply of VVIP choppers worth 556.262 million euros.