UN to call for release of British businessman held in Indian jail over £500m helicopter deal

·4 min read
British businessman Christian Michel
British businessman Christian Michel

The United Nations is to demand the release of a British businessman held without conviction in an Indian jail for two years over his role in a £500 million helicopter deal.

Christian Michel, 59, alleges he was tortured after refusing to sign a fake confession that he bribed Indian officials in order to secure the helicopter deal for the Anglo-Italian firm AugustaWestland for which he was acting as a consultant.

He has been held in the notorious Tihar jail in Delhi alongside murderers, rapists and terrorists since being extradited to India in December 2018 from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where he was working.

Toby Cadman, a leading human rights lawyer working pro bono to free him, said there was evidence of a “quid pro quo” deal in which Mr Michel was extradited after India handed over a runaway Dubai princess to the UAE following her capture by Indian coastguards when they boarded her yacht.

The Dubai princess - Sheikha Latifa - made headlines in 2018 with a YouTube video accusing her father, Dubai’s ruler, of kidnapping her sister after she escaped her family’s estate on a trip to Britain in 2000 and then keeping her in drugged isolation ever since.

Sheikha Latifa - AP
Sheikha Latifa - AP

A damning UK family court judgment found her father Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum guilty of orchestrating the abductions of his two daughters – the other from the streets of Cambridge – in potential breach of international law.

Mr Cadman, of Guernica 37 chambers who also represented Princess Latifa, said the swap deal from the UAE, the imprisonment and treatment of Mr Michel was “arbitrary,” “inhumane” and flouted international law.

He said Mr Michel had been caught up in a “politically-motivated” case in which the ruling BJP party was trying to tar the previous Congress Party administration with corruption over the helicopter deal.

Mr Cadman has filed a petition of complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture which are expected to rule in favour of Mr Michel within weeks.

Mr Michel has also written to Boris Johnson from his prison cell, urging him to intervene both in his case and that of a British cellmate, Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton, who has been held without conviction in India for three years on “false” terror charges and who also alleges torture.

In his letter seen by The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Michel said all he wanted was “unconditional bail.” He said he was prepared to stand trial but would not “bear false witness” to support the BJP party’s allegations of corruption.

“If I was going to run I would have run from Dubai,” he wrote. “My trial will take 20 years...I like India and Indian people, and after 20 years the trial will collapse as is normal in such cases, and most of the witnesses and accused will have died of old age.

“Prime Minister I request that you move on my requests, if not I am stuck and will have no choice but to go on hunger strike.”

The bribery allegations have been heard twice by an Italian court and rejected as “conclusively having no evidence of corruption.” Mr Michel’s extradition was initially refused by the UAE due to a “lack of evidence and unsubstantiated allegations.”

But an identical extradition application was submitted after India had handed over Princess Latifa to the UAE and it was accepted. Mr Michel was extradited to India where he claims he was questioned for 14 hours a day for two weeks without sleep.

The Indian Government has denied that “no due process was followed in the extradition” of Mr Michel or that he has been subject to torture.

A FCDO spokesman said: “Our staff continue to support a British man who has been detained in Delhi since 2018 and regularly raise his case with the Indian authorities. The Foreign Secretary raised it with India’s Minister of External Affairs, Dr Jaishankar, during his visit to India in December 2020.

“Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon has met with his family based in the UK, and we continue to provide them with updates on his case.”

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