Briton extradited to India in alleged copter bribery scheme

By ASHOK SHARMAFeaturesAssociated Press

India's federal investigative agency said Tuesday that it extradited from the United Arab Emirates a British man accused of bribery in a $670 million helicopter deal between India and an Italian defense company.

Christian James Michel was brought to India from Dubai to face charges of channeling money to Indian contacts, the Central Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

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Michel, who has denied the allegations, arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday night, said Abhishek Dayal, a spokesman for the investigation bureau.

Michel transferred the money from a British subsidiary of Finmeccanica, Indian investigators in 2016 said in court documents. Finmeccanica has since been renamed Leonardo.

India received three of the AW1010 12 helicopters to fly top Indian officials around the country in 2014 but then halted the rest of the deal from going through after the bribery allegations surfaced.

Michel was detained in Dubai last year after India asked for his extradition.

His departure from Dubai, an emirate in the United Arab Emirates, came the same day that Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Abu Dhabi, the capital. and spoke with its powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well as her Emirati counterpart.

The Indian investigative agency has estimated that about 13 percent of the $670 deal was paid to Indian officials to secure the contract and that Michel received $35 million.

The CBI statement said Michel was a frequent visitor to India when the deal was being negotiated and "was operating as a middleman for defense procurements through a wide network of sources cultivated in the Indian Air Force and Ministry of Defense at different levels, including retired and serving officials."

India investigators want Michel to reveal names of Indian politicians involved in the alleged scheme.

Among those accused by investigators of cheating and conspiracy in the deal are former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi, three of his cousins and officials of four Indian defense companies. Tyagi was arrested in 2016, freed on bail this year and has denied that he or relatives received bribes.

India has become the world's biggest arms and defense equipment buyer in recent years and is upgrading its military.

But arms deals in India have often been marred by allegations that foreign companies paid huge kickbacks to Indian officials.

In the 1980s, then-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's government lost elections following accusations that Swedish gun manufacturer Bofors AB paid bribes to supply Howitzer field guns to the Indian army. The allegations were not proven in court.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.