The Michel test case

The extradition may have been a diplomatic success, but don’t tout it as a political victory
The extradition to India of British businessman Christian Michel, alleged to be the middleman in the AgustaWestland helicopters case who bribed officials to secure the deal, is a diplomatic success for a number of reasons. India’s track record with securing the extradition of fugitives from justice is modest, with only about a third of all requests since 2002 being accepted. Amongst the 44 countries India has extradition treaties with, the United Arab Emirates has been the most amenable; it has deported or extradited 19 of 66 fugitives to India in the past decade and a half. A reason for the low success rate in the past is the perception that India’s criminal justice system delivers too slowly. A case in point was the last high-profile case of the 1993 Mumbai blasts accused Abu Salem, who was extradited from Portugal in 2005. His trial was finally completed in 2017, when he was sentenced to life. Mr. Michel’s case is also unique since he is a British, not an Indian national; and unlike similar cases in which extradition was granted, he is not wanted on serious criminal charges like murder. His extradition comes at a time when several other cases of businessmen who have fled India are pending, causing the government some embarrassment. No doubt, Mr. Michel’s extradition for a case of corruption involving the previous Congress-led UPA government came at a timely juncture for the BJP-led NDA government, during the last stretch of the campaign for State elections. It is no secret that the government pursued the case of Mr. Michel single-mindedly, with the National Security Adviser reported to have made several trips to the UAE to secure the extradition. However, it is short-sighted for the government and the ruling party to play the diplomatic success as a political victory. The government must be aware that its actions in the Michel case are under close scrutiny, not just from the UAE, whose courts deliberated for some months on whether to send him to India, but other countries where India has about 150 pending requests at present. Thus the Central Bureau of Investigation, which has received custody of Mr. Michel for five days from a special court, must take pains to adhere to internationally accepted norms of interrogation, lest it gives other fugitives fuel to oppose pleas for their extradition to India. The U.K. has also taken up strenuously its request for consular access to Mr. Michel, and New Delhi’s record in fulfilling its diplomatic obligations may impact high-profile cases in U.K. courts, including Vijay Mallya’s and Nirav Modi’s. If handled professionally and without politicisation, Mr. Michel’s extradition could reveal important leads in the helicopters case. It would also bolster India’s reputation as a country serious about ensuring that justice is served, and expeditiously so.

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