AgustaWestland Chopper Scam: Supreme Court Rejects Bail to Christian Michel James under Section 436A Cr.P.C. The Supreme Court in the case of Christian Michel vs. Central Bureau of Investigation rejected the bail plea of British national and accused- Christian Michel James filed under Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). The three judges bench comprising of...
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AgustaWestland Chopper Scam: Supreme Court Rejects Bail to Christian Michel James under Section 436A Cr.P.C.
The Supreme Court in the case of Christian Michel vs. Central Bureau of Investigation rejected the bail plea of British national and accused- Christian Michel James filed under Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC).
The three judges bench comprising of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha and Justice JB Pardiwala granted him the liberty to approach the Trial Court and seek regular bail.
The Apex Court was adjudicating the bail plea filed by Michel in the cases registered against him by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the 2013 helicopter bribery scam. Previously, the Delhi High Court had dismissed Michel's bail plea after the Court deemed him to be a flight-risk, leading to the present appeal before the Apex Court.
Michel is accused of creating a paper trail to route kickbacks in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, a 2013 helicopter bribery scam in which money was allegedly paid to middlemen and Indian officials in 2006 and 2007 to purchase choppers for politicians. The CBI had estimated the amount of bribes at US $33 million, transferred through bank accounts in the UK and UAE.
In May, 2022 the Supreme Court had issued notice to the CBI and ED in the matter. Accordingly, in December, the Apex Court had asked the Central government agencies whether the British national can be kept in jail indefinitely without bail merely because he is a foreign national.
During the hearing, the counsels appearing for Michel Advocates Aljo Joseph, Sriram Parakkat and MS Vishnu Shankar had submitted that his case was covered under Section 436A which states- maximum period for which an under-trial prisoner can be detained of the CrPC. Further, the investigation has been going on for more than nine years.
Advocate Aljo Joseph, highlighted that all the co-accused- Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa who were extradited in connection with the same offence, had gotten bail while Michel has served 50 per cent of his sentence.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain, appearing on behalf of the central agencies- CBI and ED, contended that the petitioner is facing charges under Section 467 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which are punishable with life imprisonment. The allegations involve money laundering, collusion, illegal gratification, among others. Due to the aforesaid allegations, the ASG asserted that is no reason or occasion for granting bail under Section 436A of CrPC.
The bench however pointed out the fact that no chargesheet was filed and the accused had been denied regular bail, and the investigation as well as detention was still ongoing.
"It cannot be open ended from your side. You must say a time (to complete probe)," Justice Narasimha said.
The ASG responded saying that custody would be necessary till the letters-rogatory are answered.
The ASG submitted that the reason for his continued detention was that he posed a flight risk as per the order of the High Court. To this, CJI DY Chandrachud remarked–
"You may be right that he can't get bail under Section 436A but you still have to answer why he may be denied regular bail. How long will you keep him in custody?"
ASG Jain submitted– "Once the investigation is concluded, I would have no difficulty."
Joseph submitted that the only reason Michel is kept in custody is because he has not ready to give a confession as demanded by the probe agencies and otherwise, he has completely cooperated with the investigation. He added that the investigators had recorded his statements on many occasions while he was outside India.
Additionally, it was flagged that according to the extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), British nationals cannot be tried for offences apart from what he was extradited for.
The bench ultimately refused to grant him the relief under 436A.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, while dictating the order, stated–
"The counsel for petitioner pressed the provisions of Section 436A of CrPC in aid of the submission that the petitioner has completed half the maximum sentence and thus is entitled to bail. We are not inclined to accept this submission. The first proviso to Section 436A stipulates that the court may order continued detention which may extend half of the maximum punishment. The single judge of High Court while declining bail has also adverted to circumstances as per which the petitioner was extradited. The Special Leave Petition is dismissed. We clarify that the present order shall not come in the way of the petitioner approaching the trial court for grant of regular bail."