Mon, 06 Feb 2023

New Delhi [India], December 6 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked whether it is appropriate to completely deprive British citizen Christian Michel, accused in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, of his liberty simply because he is a foreign national.

A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha asked how long can Michel be kept in custody and said, "ordinarily, if the accused had been an Indian national, the court would have been willing to grant him bail, especially if he had spent more than four years in custody for the offences the maximum punishment for which is five years."The bench told Additional Solicitor General SV Rau, appearing for probe agencies CBI and the ED, "Merely because he is a foreign national, how long can we keep him? Can that justify the complete deprivation of his liberty? Had he been an Indian national, the court would have been willing to grant him bail."Michel had approached the apex court seeking bail in the cases registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam being probed by the agencies.

Counsel appearing for Michel, a United Kingdom national who was extradited from Dubai in 2018, told the bench that Michel had spent around four years in jail after his extradition in connection with an FIR registered in 2013 for the incident which took place in 2004 till 2008.

Michel had almost finished the maximum sentence of five years for the offences that he had been alleged with, counsel said.

The court was told that many accused persons who were similarly placed had been granted bail by the trial court except Michel.

The bench expressed its concern over the relationship between the treaty and the statute (Extradition Act, 1962) and said the statute says he can only be tried for the offences for which he has surrendered or has been extradited and the limitation imposed by the statute cannot be removed by a treaty.

The apex court asked the counsel of Michel and ASG to submit a note on the issue and listed the matter for hearing in the second week of January 2023.

ASG Raju said the provision in the statute that such a person shall not be tried for offences other than those for which he has been extradited has to be read along with the treaty, which says that "including connected offences" and it cannot be read in isolation.

ED opposed the bail plea of Michel and earlier told the Supreme Court that he has tried to pass confidential papers to his counsel at the time of legal access.

It had said that further investigation in the present case is still ongoing and many crucial documents are required to be collected across jurisdictions for the purpose of the investigation therefore it is strongly apprehended that he might try to tamper the witnesses or evidence and obstruct the judicial process.

The investigating agency had told the bench that the role of Michel was clearly established and the offence of money laundering was squarely made out against him.

Michel had challenged in the apex court the March 11 order of the Delhi High Court which had refused to grant him bail.

CBI had said that he has a flight risk and it fears that because of the way the British government is helping him, he might flee and will never return.

Michel had contended before the High Court that all the other accused in the case got bail in 60 days and he is the only one who hasn't been given bail and is suffering incarnation.

According to the bail petition, Michel said that as a bail condition he will be available to join the investigation and trial as and when required and has never sought to evade the process of law.

Earlier, the trial court had rejected his bail plea and had shown its displeasure with the British High Commission for sending a letter addressed to it stating that the medical condition of Michel and his pre-trial detention of two and half years may be taken into account when his bail application is considered.

Christian Michel James was extradited in 2018 after India won the extradition case in Dubai. Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the deal, was deported from the UAE and is currently in judicial custody. The Dubai-based businessman Rajeev Saxena was extradited to India on January 31, 2019, in connection with the Rs 3,600-crore alleged scam relating to the purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters from AgustaWestland. (ANI)

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