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AgustaWestland Chopper Scam: Supreme Court rejects bail plea of 'middleman' Christian Michel James


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the bail plea of AgustaWestland (an Anglo-Italian helicopter design and manufacturing company) VVIP chopper scam accused Christian Michel James. 

Christian, who was arrested and extradited from Dubai on December 4, 2018, approached SC against Delhi High Court's order refusing to grant him bail on the ground that he covered u/s 436A of CrPC which deals with the maximum period for which an under trial prisoner can be detained. He had stated in his plea that he had covered 50% of his maximum sentence which according to sections 8 and 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act was 5 years.

A bench of Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, Justices PS Narasimha, and JB Pardiwala while dismissing his plea noted that his case was not covered under section 436A CrPC. The bench however said that the court’s observations would not come in the way of him approaching a trial court for regular bail. 

“The fundamental basis on which the petitioner has sought bail (436A) cannot be accepted as valid. We are not inclined to accept submissions of petitioners. The single judge of HC while declining bail has also adverted to the circumstances that led to the petitioner's extradition. It has emerged before the court that bail is being sought under 436A and that cannot be granted. The provisions of Section 436A would not be applicable in this case. We find no merit in the Special Leave Petition (SLP). We clarify that the present order shall not come in the way of approaching the trial court for regular bail. The SLP is dismissed. We clarify that the present order shall not come in the way of the petitioner approaching the trial court for grant of regular bail,” the court said in its order. 

During the hearing, the bench however expressed concerns with regard to his extended period of custody.

“Ultimately how long will you keep him in custody? Mr Jain, you will have to be fair to him. Till when do you propose to keep him in jail? How long will the process of LRs continue? ,2 years, 3 years.. ? Tell us by when it will conclude? It cannot go on endlessly,” Chandrachud remarked. 

Justice PS Narasimha added, “It cannot be open-ended from your side. You must say a time.” 

Earlier, the bench while expressing concerns at the pace with which CBI and ED were conducting trial against Christian Michel James, the middleman who was allegedly responsible for illegal transactions in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, the Supreme Court had asked probe agencies whether it was justified to keep him behind bars and deprive him of his liberty due to his nationality. 

Michaels’ counsels, Advocates Aljio Joseph, Sriram Parakkat, and Vishnu Shankar contended that Michel’s case was covered u/s 436A of CrPC and that he had covered 50% of his maximum sentence which according to sections 8 and 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act was five years. He further added that Michel could only be tried for the offence mentioned in the extradition treaty. “The investigation had started in 2013 and is still not complete. All persons who were extradited have been granted bail,” he added. 

On the other hand, ASG Sanjay Jain while opposing his bail said that the CBI was conducting a further investigation and would file the chargesheet soon. He also contended, “In CBI case he is charged with section IPC 467 (forgery of a valuable document) in which maximum sentence is 10 yrs or life imprisonment.” 

Jain also 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 had to be read along with the treaty, which said that “including connected offences. It cannot be read in isolation”.

Delhi HC while dismissing his bail plea had observed that allegations against Christian were serious in nature.

“The allegations levelled against the applicant are serious in nature, for having committed a grave economic offence. He is reported to have transferred confidential information regarding the VVIP helicopters deal to AWIL, in order to influence the deal in its favor. He is also accused of having facilitated the payment of kickbacks/bribe amounts by AWIL to Indian bureaucrats, politicians, etc. in connection with the deal. For his services, he is alleged to have received Euro 30 million from AWIL, which amount is stated to have been routed further through his companies to co-accused persons/entities and later projected as untainted.”

The CBI had alleged that there was an estimated loss of Euro 398.21 million (about Rs 2666 Crore) to the exchequer in the deal that was signed on February 8, 2010, for the supply of VVIP choppers worth Euro 556.262 million. ED had then filed a chargesheet against Michel in June 2016, alleging that he had received EUR 30 million (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland. (AIR NEWS)

53 Days ago