British middleman held in India over chopper deal
New Delhi, India - The alleged British middleman in a dicey helicopter deal between India and an Anglo-Italian firm was remanded in custody on Wednesday after being extradited by the UAE, authorities 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 (US$630mn) in 2010.
Brought in from the UAE on Tuesday, James appeared in a Delhi court amid tight security.
He will remain in police custody initially for five days and be allowed to meet his lawyer for an hour twice a day during this period, lawyers said.
Special Judge Arvind Kumar allowed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), a federal probe agency, to quiz the middleman till December 10, the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported.
Italian prosecutors suspect illegal sweeteners worth about ten per cent of the contract, or some € 55mn, 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.
Indian 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 the northwestern state of Rajasthan on Wednesday, 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 the party’s long-powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Indian media reported.
The Congress party had earlier alleged that the BJP government managed to force James to sign a false confession naming its former party chief Sonia Gandhi in exchange of exoneration from any charges.
Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala accused Modi of being the ‘protector, benefactor and promoter’ of AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmeccanica, the IANS reported.
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.