AgustaWestland ‘middleman’ Christian Michel on hunger strike, kin flag ‘delay’ in trial

A DAY after Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal, began his “indefinite” hunger strike in Tihar Jail, his family members on Friday said they were “very concerned about the trial never happening” and urged the British government to intervene.

Michel had sought the UK government’s intervention in a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month, saying he would remain on a hunger strike till it took action.

Michel’s legal team has contended that he was extradited to India by the UAE in December 2018 in exchange for the return of Princess Latifa, the estranged daughter of the ruler of Dubai who was reportedly forcibly taken off a boat in international waters off the coast of India in March 2018.

In a video conference with mediapersons on Friday, Michel’s son, Alois, said from Luxembourg: “We are urging the UK government to intervene. For three years, he has been asking the UK to support him… nothing happens and no reaction is given. He has no option but to go on a hunger strike.”

Saying he was “very concerned about the trial never happening”, Alois said: “It is really devastating to see a father torn away from his family. I haven’t seen him in three years now. His absence in my life is difficult to cope with. I wonder if I will ever see him again. I am constantly looking for his guidance… The condition in which my father is living, all alone, and he is getting old, we don’t know the risks he is taking with the hunger strike.”

Speaking from Paris, Michel’s wife, Valerie, said: “It’s been three long years with absolutely no trial, no justice… My husband has no choice but (to resort to) a hunger strike. We are worried for his physical, mental and emotional health. We don’t know anything about his condition. He is probably in a precarious condition. My children are growing with no father.”

In his letter to the British PM, Michel said his situation was akin to being on death row. He said the British Embassy in Dubai had “refused to intervene” when he “warned them in Dubai, UAE that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (ruler of Dubai) was going to break UAE law, international law and my human rights to have me renditioned to India…” He said that after “three wasted years on Indian judicial process and Indian jail abuse, it is time to act”.

While the family alleged that Michel wrote the letter after he was denied permission to communicate with the British High Commission, Tihar Jail Director General Sandeep Goyal said, “None of his rights have been violated. He has been given regular counsellor access as per procedure. He went on a hunger strike yesterday and has not taken any food. We are monitoring his health; if medical intervention is required, it will be provided to him.”

During earlier bail hearings before a Delhi court, Michel’s lawyers argued that he had raised the issue of his “illegal” detention before the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which opined that his “deprivation of liberty” was in “contravention of Articles 3, 9, 10 and 11 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 9 (3); 10 (1); and 14 (1)-(2) and (3) (b)-(d) and (g) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.

However, the court said the UNHRC WGAD was “not a judicial body and it appears that it did not have complete material before it was forming an opinion”.

Advocate Aljo Joseph, who represents Michel in court, said the maximum punishment he could face was up to seven years and he has already served 50 per cent of his sentence while awaiting trial. “Investigation has been going on since 2013… 50 per cent of the sentence has been undergone, investigation is still not complete, is it not weird in a legal system? Every other person (in this case) has been granted bail within a month or 15 days,” he said.

Michel’s bail application is listed for hearing before the Delhi High Court on December 2.

Prosecution teams from the CBI and ED have alleged that the accused was not providing documents, thereby leading to delays. The CBI team told the court earlier that documents related to the case were not handed over from UK, Dubai, Italy and Switzerland. The ED team has said their investigation on the money trail is nearing completion.

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