India got Christian Michel in return for Princess Latifa?
- Michel was extradited to Delhi from Dubai, where he runs a business, last month and is being interrogated by the CBI and ED
- Decision to extradite him came eight months after India sent back Princess Latifa, who was intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard
Asian and European diplomatic sources in New Delhi told a British newspaper at the weekend that Michel was extradited from Dubai in an "exchange" for India sending back Latifa.
Toby Cadman, an international human rights lawyer from Guernica 37 Chambers in London, is the lawyer who took the Latifa case to the UN. He is now advising the Christian Michel family. He told TOI the idea Michel's extradition had been a swap has "been alleged on more than one occasion".
"It is a matter that will need to be properly investigated and this is a matter which will be taken to the UN," he declared. "I cannot divulge at this time the nature of the evidence as this will need to be presented to the appropriate judicial authority. I can confirm there are serious concerns as to the nature and procedure concerning the extradition from the UAE to India and that will need to be properly scrutinised. It is anticipated that the Indian judicial authorities will recognise that there is no proper legal basis to hold Mr Michel and he should be discharged immediately and allowed to return to the UK," Cadman said.
Cadman added: "The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention can look into the case and issue an opinion on the legality and/or arbitrariness of detention, and, if they consider appropriate, recommend his release."
Michel, 57, a British millionaire arms dealer, was extradited to Delhi from Dubai, where he runs a business, last month and is being interrogated by the CBI and the ED.
The decision to extradite him came just eight months after India sent back Princess Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the 33-year-old daughter of Dubai's billionaire ruler, who was intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard when she was attempting to flee her gilded prison lifestyle in the UAE to travel to the US.
Latifa's yacht was intercepted off the coast of Goa in March 2018 and she was sent back to Dubai in a joint India-Emirati operation, despite demanding asylum.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, said: "This joint operation was approved by Prime Minister Modi after a personal telephone call with Sheikh Mohammed. Because of India's participation in this illegal action, they have faced considerable international criticism, including an official enquiry by the UN. In short, the UAE owes India a favour; it appears that expedited extradition may well be a gesture of reciprocal appreciation by the UAE for India's role in the abduction and return of Princess Latifa back to the Emirates."
She claimed this quid pro pro exchange took place in the context of the expanding ties between the two countries. India supplies the UAE with the largest portion of its workforce and is one of the Gulf nation's most important trading partners. The UAE wants to expand its global influence and it sees a strategic partnership with India as an effective way to do that.
"Criminal investigations and extradition proceedings must never be politicised, and certainly must not become chips in an exchange of favours between governments," Stirling said.
"There are serious human rights violations and civil rights abuses committed in the UAE against Indian nationals on a regular basis; from mistreatment of workers to unjust prosecutions. Rather than using their advantage to expedite the extradition of someone like Christian Michel, the Indian government would do better by intervening in such cases wherein their own citizens are being victimised. India would do well to seek partnership more with the US, UK and Europe for a long-term strategy."
A member of Michel's legal team told The Sunday Telegraph: "That there was a swap deal is my understanding too."
India and the UAE have an extradition treaty dating back to 2011 that covers citizens of the two countries, but the extradition of a third party national is unusual. "It enters a murky part of international law," said one diplomat.
The CBI has filed a chargesheet accusing Michel of criminally conspiring with Indian officials to ensure Britain's only helicopter manufacturer - AgustaWestland in Yeovil, Somerset (now called Leonardo Helicopters) -wins the 12 VVIP helicopter deal from the Indian government. The CBI claims Michel received Rs 337 crore (€42.27 million) from the Italian Finmeccanica Group, now renamed Leonardo, which he paid in illegal bribes to Indian officials to swing the deal in AgustWestland's favour in February 2010, when the UPA was in government, and that he got officials to reduce the height the VVIP choppers needed to fly at in order to bag the deal.
Leonardo is still embroiled in an arbitration dispute in Delhi over the cancellation of the chopper contract by the Indian government in 2014.