In the “biggest catch” for investigators of the dicey AgustaWestland chopper deal struck in 2010 during UPA rule, British national Christian Michel has been sent to the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation for five days.
Michel, allegedly a middleman who facilitated the Rs 3,600-crore deal on the basis of kickbacks to officials, was extradited from the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday. CBI sleuths probing the illegal sweeteners say his interrogation is likely to expose specific roles of arms dealers, politicians and government officials, whose nexus helped swing the deal in favour of the Anglo-Italian firm.
It was not easy for India to get a UK national extradited from a third country, UAE. Sources said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken up the issue with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman during their meeting at the former’s residence in Argentine capital Buenos Aires on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
CBI sources say it was National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s closeness to Saudi royals and his network in West Asia that helped secure Michel’s extradition. Doval was monitoring every development and had directed Research and Analysis Wing chief AK Dasmana and special secretary Samant Goel to minutely chase the case at each level. The team also took CBI officials on board.
Furthermore, PM Modi’s personal equation with UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan also worked to strengthen ties between enforcement agencies of the two countries.
Even after diplomatic pressure at various levels to stop Michel’s extradition and his attempt to escape, Doval and his team tipped off the authorities in Dubai, foiling the escape bid. A Dubai court’s ruling in favour of India only helped the authorities, and Michel was extradited the day External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in the UAE.
The successful extradition has boosted the morale of the Indian authorities who are fighting legal and diplomatic battles to bring back fugitives wanted for alleged financial wrongdoing in the country. The agencies are hopeful now they will bring back liquor baron Vijay Mallya, jeweller Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi and others who have absconded abroad after allegedly committing massive financial irregularities.
The CBI, in its press statement, acknowledged Doval’s initiative: “Under the guidance of the NSA, the entire operation is being coordinated by in-charge Director CBI M Nageswara Rao and a team lead by A Sai Manohar, Joint Director of CBI.”
Sai Manohar, a member of Doval’s crack team, was on Michel’s trail ever since he was arrested by UAE authorities in February 2017 on the basis of an Interpol Red Corner Notice.
“The officials from external spy agency and CBI worked as a core team. After Dubai court nod for extradition, Indian government managed to get clearance from the UAE authorities,” sources said.
Sources also said Indian agencies help in rescuing Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, from international waters in Indian Ocean cemented the working relationship between Indian and UAE authorities. Latifa had fled her country to seek asylum in the United States, but was tracked down and brought back to Dubai. Her vessel was reportedly intercepted on March 4 off the coast of India in international waters.
Strings That Pulled Middleman In Net
Efforts Were Underway Months After NDA-II Came To Power
- Last year, NSA Ajit Doval set up a crack team of four officers including top personnel from CBI, RAW
- Doval’s closeness to Saudi royal family helped hasten the matter
- There was diplomatic pressure to stop Michel’s extradition. But a Dubai court ruled in favour of India
- India’s help in rescuing Sheikha Latifa, daughter of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, from international waters also cemented ties
- Three months ago, Michel tried to escape from Dubai, in a skull cap, salwar kameez
- PM Modi took up issue with Saudi prince Salman at G20 summit in Argentina
- Extradition was already through when Swaraj visited UAE on Monday: Sources
Others On The Run
Centre has formed a dedicated team to pursue extradition of India’s top seven fugitives who fled after allegations of financial wrongdoings:
- Nirav Modi (UK)
- Mehul Choksi (Antigua and Barbuda)
- Vijay Mallya (UK)
- Lalit Modi (UK)
- Deepak Talwar (UAE)
- Sanjay Bhandari (UK)
- Jatin Mehta (Federation of St Kitts and Nevis)
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