The extradition of Christian Michel, the alleged British middleman in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal, from Dubai marks a significant step in the efforts to bring the offenders in high-profile cases to book. It also bears testimony to successful coordination with the UAE authorities and the judiciary. The development comes against the backdrop of India presenting a nine-point proposal, during the recent G20 summit, to tackle cases of economic offences. A strong case was made out for international cooperation to catch offenders and make them accountable for their deeds. There is a need for enhanced cooperation in legal processes such as effective freezing of the proceeds of crime, early return of the offenders and efficient repatriation of the proceeds of crime. In the case of Michel’s extradition, what really worked was the deepened strategic relationship between the UAE and India. The CBI is investigating charges that the British national organised bribes to push the contract for VVIP helicopters. The Enforcement Directorate has accused Michel of receiving 30 million Euros from AgustaWestland, the British arm of the Italian firm Finmeccanica, as kickbacks for the deal that was sealed during the UPA regime in 2010. The contract for the purchase of 12 luxury helicopters for use by the President, Prime Minister, former prime ministers and other VIPs was scrapped in 2014. The allegation was that the technical specifications of the required choppers were tweaked — including lowering of the service ceiling of the helicopter from 6,000 m to 4,500 m —to help AgustaWestland qualify and win the bid.
While it is possible that the extradition will prompt the BJP to put the spotlight on corruption during the UPA regime, the parties must desist from politicising such matters in the interest of fair investigation and justice. Michel’s lawyer, on the other hand, had alleged that he was being pressured by Indian agencies to frame Congress leader Sonia Gandhi in return for amnesty from criminal proceedings. His extradition has now prompted fugitive economic offender Vijay Mallya to make an offer to the government to pay back his dues to the banks. The offer has come five days before his extradition request will be heard in a UK court. The liquor baron is facing charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around Rs 9,000 crore. The process to bring back such fugitives to face the law would become hassle-free if there is a better international coordination in matters involving economic offenders. India has rightly called for joint efforts by G20 countries to form a mechanism that denies entry and safe havens to fugitive economic offenders and also suggested a common platform for sharing experiences and best practices.