VVIP chopper scam case: Christian Michel’s family pleads for UK government intervention

The family of Christian Michel, based in the UK and France, on Thursday expressed concern for his well-being amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in India and urged the British government to intervene on behalf of the VVIP chopper scam accused being held in Tihar Jail in New Delhi.

Alaric and Alois Michel, the sons of the British middleman who was extradited to India from the UAE over a controversial helicopter deal, said they were increasingly concerned for their father’s well-being amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the country’s prisons and his medical condition involving kidney stones.

“It has been extremely hard on us, especially our 17-year-old sister. We are concerned for our father’s well-being given the COVID-19 pandemic and his medical condition,” 26-year-old Alaric said during an online press conference organised by Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers in London.

“India is somewhere our father considered home for many years,” added 24-year-old Alois.

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The Indian government maintains that all procedures were followed in the extradition case.

Michel’s legal team, however, alleges that he was handed over to the Indian authorities as a “quid pro quo” for the return of Princess Latifa – the daughter of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

On February 26, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concerns and delivered an opinion that the process by which Christian Michel was extradited to India did not follow due process, thereby amounting to an unlawful rendition, which his lawyers say “represents a flagrant attempt to disregard international protocols that relate to extradition”.

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“Thus, the UN WGAD ruled that he is being arbitrarily detained contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ordering his immediate release,” they noted.

India had rejected the opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, saying the conclusions drawn by the UN panel are based on limited information, biased allegations and an inaccurate understanding of its criminal justice system.

India also made it clear that the Working Group is not a judicial body, and therefore, its opinions are not legally binding on the member states.

On February 26, the Ministry of External Affairs said the Indian government provided timely information on this issue to the Working Group in June 2020, at their request.

“We regret that the conclusions drawn by the Working Group are based on limited information, biased allegations from an unidentified source and on an inaccurate understanding of India’s criminal justice system,” a MEA spokesman said.

The extradition was done entirely in accordance with the provisions of the extradition treaty signed between two sovereign states, the spokesman said, adding that the arrest and subsequent custody were done as per the due process of law and cannot be considered arbitrary on any grounds.

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“At no time was the accused denied his rights to legal counsel or a fair hearing. The fact that he has been able to approach Courts on multiple occasions including the higher judiciary is itself proof of this. There have also been no restrictions on consular access by the authorities. He has been treated at par as other detainees and provided all facilities by the prison authorities as per rules,” the MEA Spokesperson said.

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India, as a responsible member of the Human Rights Council, will continue to cooperate with the Working Group and provide it with the necessary information to the extent possible under Indian laws, to promote and protect human rights of all, the spokesperson said.

During a direct appeal to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, Michel’s sons and lawyers called upon the UK government to follow up with India on honouring the UN Working Group direction.

“It is for India to decide whether it wishes to stand on the side of democratic countries that honour their UN commitment or not,” said Toby Cadman of Guernica 37.

In January, Michel wrote a 35-page letter to Johnson, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel, calling on the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to intervene in his case, explaining how his extradition was motivated by “political reasons”. His legal team has called on the FCDO to take immediate steps to intervene and urged both the government of India and the UAE to implement the UN recommendations.

“His life is indeed in peril and the grave violations of his human rights are indeed an affront to the very essence of human dignity,” his lawyers say.

Meanwhile, Michel has been refused bail several times and his case is currently going through a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court.

France-based human rights lawyer Francois Zimeray said that as Michel was a European Union (EU) citizen at the time of his arrest, his team would look at raising the case with the European Commission which could prove a “stone in bilateral relations” between India and the EU.

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Michel was working in the UAE as a consultant for a subsidiary of the Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, itself a subsidiary of aerospace and defence group Finmeccanica. He was accused of arranging kickbacks to Indian officials to secure a deal for the company to supply New Delhi with 12 helicopters in 2010.

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He has been in jail ever since he was brought on a special plane from Dubai after UAE authorities handed him over to the Indian government in December 2018.

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