The barristers’ chambers representing AgustaWestland helicopter scam accused Christian Michel’s family has filed a petition of complaint with the United Nations requesting an investigation into the detention and “ongoing ill-treatment” of the 57-year-old, claiming the charges against him are politically motivated, the detention is “arbitrary”, that he is being tortured and should be exonerated and released.
Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers in London filed an urgent communication on Wednesday with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture against both the UAE and the Republic of India in respect of Michel.
The UN working group will have to write to the UAE and India to get their responses before rendering its opinion. But it could recommend Michel’s release and award compensation to him, though it is not legally binding.
The Guernica 37 appeal states “the level of political interference with the case was such that it is devoid of an independent judicial process and can only be characterised as an unlawful transfer from one state to another”.
The petition alleges that Michel was “handcuffed, blindfolded and transported by private jet” when “unlawfully” extradited from the UAE to India in December 2018 and “taken in a hurried manner without the ability to challenge any decision”.
“The detention and any subsequent trial has not, and will not adhere to relevant fair trial standards,” the petition states.
It claims that in India “Michel has been held in squalid conditions”, sharing a cell in Tihar Jail with 45 others, conditions “that breach basic human rights conditions”, and that he has been “subjected to repeated and prolonged interrogations aimed at securing a confession through coercion, and subjected to ill-treatment of such severity that may constitute torture at the hands of the CBI and ED”.
It claims Michel was handed over to India as part of a quid pro quo following the Indian authorities’ “alleged involvement in the abduction of Princess Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al Maktoum and her return to the UAE in March 2018”. That month the 33-year-old daughter of Dubai’s billionaire ruler was intercepted in a yacht off the coast of Goa and sent back to Dubai in a joint Indian-Emirati operation whilst attempting to flee her gilded prison lifestyle in the UAE to travel to the US.
Toby Cadman, an international human rights lawyer from Guernica 37 Chambers, who is advising the Michel family, told TOI: “It is anticipated that they will rule his detention to be arbitrary, in breach of international law, and that his extradition was unlawful.” He said whilst the findings of the UN working group were not legally binding, “failure to implement the recommendations could have consequences”.
He is the lawyer who took the Latifa case to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance and recently was instructed to act for the government of India in the Nirav Modi extradition request, though he has since stepped down.
The communication adds that India’s extradition request “only came about following Michel’s refusal to cooperate in signing a 20-page confession incriminating himself in the alleged corruption” in January 2018, that his removal from the UAE was a flagrant denial of justice, and that the Italian high court had ruled that there was no evidence to implicate Michel.
“In filing this petition, Guernica requests that the UN Special Procedures Branch examine the circumstances of Mr Michel’s rendition, detention, and ongoing ill-treatment with a view to his release and exoneration being secured,” it states.
The CBI and the ED have filed chargesheets against Michel and he has been denied bail by the Indian courts.
He is accused of, during the UPA-led government, illegally bribing and criminally conspiring with Indian officials to win a contract on behalf of Britain’s only helicopter manufacturer, AgustaWestland, now renamed Leonardo Helicopters, for 12 VVIP helicopters from the Indian government.
On February 8, 2010 AugustaWestland won the contract, worth Rs 4,354 crore (€556 million). But the deal was scrapped in 2014 after allegations emerged that bribes had changed hands. The CBI claims Michel received Rs 330 crore (€42.3 million) from the helicopter manufacturer to pay bribes to Indian officials to secure the deal.