The Supreme Court on February 7 rejected the bail plea of British citizen Christian Michel, accused and an alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam (Christian Michael versus ED/CBI). Christian Michel had approached the Supreme Court seeking bail in the cases registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the scam being investigated by the agencies.
The bench was presided over by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala.
Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain appeared for the CBI and ED, while Advocate Aljo Joseph, Advocate Sriram Parakkat, and Advocate MS Vishnu Shankar appeared for the petitioner.
Michel had sought bail under section 436A of CrPC, which states that a person can be released on bail if he has finished half of the maximum sentence given for the offence.
The bench, however, said that he can pursue remedy of regular bail before a trial court. The order read that “the first proviso to Section 436A stipulates that the court may order continued detention which may extend half of the maximum punishment. The single judge of High Court while declining bail has also adverted to circumstances as per which the petitioner was extradited.”
Christian James Michel is a British consultant who is alleged to have played an important role as one of the three middlemen in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland transaction for the procurement of 12 VVIP helicopters. The other two middlemen are Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa. Michel was extradited by Dubai in 2018 and has been in jail ever since. The CBI and the ED have lodged two separate cases for bribery and other offences relating to the AgustaWestland case.
The deal, finalised during former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s tenure, was caught up in allegations of kickbacks. Apparently, kickbacks worth euros 67 million (Rs. 552 crores as per forex rates) were to be paid by the Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland through two sets of middlemen – one led by Guido Haschke and another by Christian Michel.
The ED, in its chargesheet filed in June 2016, had alleged that Michel received 30 million euros (around Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland.
Previously, the CBI had also claimed that names of highly placed individuals and bureaucrats surfaced during its investigation into the chopper scandal. As per a note written by Michel sometime in 2008 at his London office, 30 million euros were to be disseminated among Indian bureaucrats, politicians, and air force officers. The note made use of abbreviations of designations under the headings “AF” (air force), “BUR” (bureaucrats), “POL” (politicians) and “Fam”. The note revealed that 6 million euros were meant for “AF”, 8.4 million euros for “BUR”, 3 million euros for “Pol” and 15-16 million euros for “Fam”.
However, the same could not be prosecuted so far because of lack of “sufficient prosecutable evidence” in the absence of full execution of Letters Rogatory (LRs) sent to foreign shores.
The previous year on December 2, the Supreme Court said it will hear on December 6 the bail pleas of Michel in the case. In May 2022, the supreme court had sought responses from the CBI and the ED on the bail pleas filed by Michel. The probe agencies had stated that they secured his custody after much hardship and that section 436A will not be applicable to the ED proceedings. Michel had challenged the Delhi High Court order of March 11, 2022, through which his bail plea was refused. Rejecting the bail pleas in both the CBI and ED cases in 2022, a trial court had stated that taking account of the overall facts and circumstances, the serious nature of the accusations, the gravity of the offence, and the conduct of the accused, the case was not deemed fit to be eligible for bail.
The contract became one of the biggest controversies during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime. The deal was eventually scrapped in 2014. The anomalies in the award of the contract to the Anglo-Italian firm led to an estimated loss of Euro 398.21 million (around Rs 2,666 crore) to the government in the Euro 556.262 million (Rs 3726.9 crore) contract, according to CBI.