The alleged British middleman in a dicey helicopter deal between India and an Anglo-Italian firm was remanded in custody yesterday after being extradited by the UAE, officials said .
Christian Michel James is accused of arranging kickbacks to Indian officials to secure a deal for AgustaWestland to supply New Delhi with 12 helicopters for €556mn euros ($630mn) in 2010.
Brought in from the United Arab Emirates late Tuesday, James appeared in a Delhi court amid tight security.
He will remain in the custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation initially for five days and be allowed to meet his lawyer for one hour twice a day during this period, lawyers said.
Italian prosecutors suspect illegal sweeteners worth about 10% of the contract, or some €55mn euros, were paid out in bribes.
India cancelled the deal in January 2014.
James, who in previous interviews with Indian newspapers denied any wrongdoing, was detained in Dubai in February 2017 following an Indian arrest warrant and an Interpol notice.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to capitalise politically on the scandal as the contract was signed under the previous government of the Congress Party.
Addressing a rally in Rajasthan yesterday, Modi said: “We have brought back the middleman. He will spill the beans.”
The BJP said on Tuesday that the case could spell “serious trouble” for the “first family” of Congress, referring to party president Rahul Gandhi and her mother Sonia.
The Congress had earlier alleged that the BJP government managed to force James to sign a false confession naming Sonia in exchange of exoneration from any charges.
In Italy, the former head of AgustaWestland and of parent company Finmeccanica were given jail sentences in 2014 over the scandal but they were later acquitted.
In a related development, the Congress yesterday fired Aljo K Joseph from its legal cell after a controversy erupted over the lawyer representing James.
“Aljo K Joseph appeared in his personal capacity. He did not consult the Youth Congress before appearing in the case. The Indian Youth Congress (IYC) does NOT endorse such actions,” party leader Krishna Allavaru said in a tweet.
“The IYC has removed Aljo Joseph from IYC’s legal department and expelled him from the party with immediate effect,” Allavaru added.
The controversy erupted over Joseph’s Congress connection after Suresh Nakhua, a spokesperson of BJP’s Mumbai unit, tweeted that Joseph was in charge of the legal department of the Youth Congress.
“Any guesses who is lawyer for Christian Michel? Mr Aljo K Joseph, national incharge, legal department, Indian Youth Congress,” Nakhua tweeted.
Soon after, Amit Malviya of the BJP’s IT department tweeted: “Meet the Congressman who is going to defend AgustaWestland ‘middleman’ Christian Michel. Does it get more obvious than that?”
Joseph accepted that he was associated with the Congress but clarified that he appeared in his personal and professional capacity.
“I am an advocate and appeared in my personal capacity. If somebody asks me to appear on his behalf, I have only discharged my duty as a lawyer. This has nothing to do with Congress. My relationship with Congress is separate and my professional relation is separate,” Joseph said.
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