Key accused in Agusta Westland chopper scam extradited to India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A key accused and alleged middleman in India’s abortive, scandal-tainted helicopter deal with Anglo-Italian firm Agusta Westland was extradited to India from Dubai late on Tuesday, according to local media.

The Indian federal Police said earlier in the day that Christian Michel would arrive in New Delhi and be taken into custody by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) before being presented in court on Wednesday.

The CBI alleges that Michel paid bribes to senior Indian government officials to secure the chopper deal for Agusta in 2010. He has denied the accusations.

His extradition is a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in its fight against corruption and apprehending fugitives abroad.

Michel is particularly important to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the accusations against him relate to the period when the opposition and bitter foe Congress was in power.

The timing is also right for the BJP as it girds for a no-holds barred fight against Congress in elections just a few months away.

A statement from Indian federal police said it learnt of Michel’s alleged involvement in the deal in 2012 but when it acted to investigate his role he fled the country.

The CBI has alleged that Michel, who was a consultant to Agusta at the time, entered into as many as 12 contracts through two of his firms to legitimize the bribes paid to officials to secure the 556 million euro deal for the 12 AW101 helicopters. India canceled the deal in 2013.

A warrant for his arrest was issued in September 2015 and he was taken into custody in the United Arab Emirates in February 2017 after the CBI issued a red notice to Interpol.

The police statement said that Michel would be examined with respect to his involvement in the case and confronted with documents received by the CBI that indicate the bribes he is alleged to have paid. Formal charges will hinge on the outcome of the CBI investigation.

Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty in New Delhi and Alex Cornwell in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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