The arrest and extradition of the wanted fugitive and middleman in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal, Christian Michel, has given away interesting details regarding the planning and operation to nab the fugitive in connection with the high-profile scam.
According to SNiWire, Christian Michel was brought to India late on Tuesday night after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj discussed the extradition with her counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Dubai last night. The CBI has taken custody of the middleman after his extradition and has credited National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval for the success of the operation.
Reportedly, Christian Michel was under the constant watch of the Indian Intelligence officials in Dubai and UAE officials for a long time. Interestingly, Michel had even tried to escape at least a couple of times by changing his appearance with the help of underworld mafia but had failed both times as he was closely watched by the R&AW officials.
Michel was arrested in February 2017 after Interpol had issued an open dated, non-bailable arrest as requested by CBI. Later, Michel was granted bail in September 2017 with a condition of him staying in the UAE. It is reported that Michel was under round-the-clock surveillance by the Indian external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) officials.
The R&AW, other Indian agencies and UAE authorities had worked together to have constant vigilance on Michel’s movements. The NDA government has played a crucial role in facilitating this operation, as the relations between the two countries has become extremely strong in the past three years.
India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, with his experience in handling tough situations and with his deep contacts in the Gulf, had worked well to make sure that no obstacles would appear in getting Michel extradited to the country. In fact, the NSA is said to have monitored the case closely from the past few weeks and is even reported to have made a quick trip to Dubai between his visit to Singapore (13-15 November, for the ASEAN summit) and the trip to Male on 17 November to tie up to make sure there were no loose ends in the case.
NSA Ajit Doval had also pulled out of the Indian delegation to the G20 summit at Buenos Aires last week at the last moment to stay back in India and make sure there was no last-minute snag in the Michel extradition case. An operation named ‘Unicorn’ was planned and carried out under the guidance of Ajit Doval and it was coordinated by interim CBI Director M Nageswar Rao to bring back Christian Michel.
The 57-year old middleman in the VVIP chopper deal was behind bars in Dubai since his arrest and was sent to custody pending the legal and judicial procedure in the UAE. Last month, the highest Court in Dubai, upholding the appellate court’s decision to extradite Michel had granted approval to India’s request for his extradition.
Christian Michel is accused of money laundering, bribery, and fraud in connection with the Rs 3,600-crore worth AgustaWestland scam. It is believed that not only did he pay kickbacks to politicians, officers and agents but also involved certain celebrity journalists to swing the deal.
India had signed a deal in 2010 to buy 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters for the service of the Prime Minister, the President and other VVIPs. It is alleged that some politicians and public servants had abused their official positions to reduce the service ceiling of the VVIPs helicopter from 6000 metres to 4500 metres to make AgustaWestland eligible for the contract and had awarded the contract for an amount of Euro 556.262 million in 2010.