India asks UK to extradite British 'middleman' in chopper scam

28th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

India's government said Thursday it has asked Britain to extradite British consultant Christian Michel James over a scandal-hit deal the previous government agreed with Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland to supply helicopters to Delhi.

India suspended the deal in 2013 after Italian investigators began looking into accusations AgustaWestland paid bribes to win the 556-million-euro ($753 million) contract for 12 helicopters intended for use by the prime minister and other VIPs.

The Central Bureau of Investigation has been seeking the custody of James -- one of 13 main accused in the case -- as a key intermediary who managed political parties and players in Italy and India.

"Yes, government of India has approached the government of the United Kingdom for extradition of Christian Michel to India in connection with the AgustaWestland helicopter scam," VK Singh, junior foreign minister, told parliament.

Separately, foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup told reporters that the request had been made but "we have not had a response from the UK side yet".

The deal has set off a fresh political storm in New Delhi after an Italian court reportedly cited James as alleging India's opposition leader Sonia Gandhi and others took more than $27 million in bribes to swing the deal for AgustaWestland.

In an interview with The Hindu newspaper James, who denies any wrongdoing or implicating Congress leaders in corruption, said documents were forged in his handwriting.

He said he was prepared to be interrogated by Indian authorities but was afraid of being "stuck in India for years".

"I think this is the only way to settle this, a direct questioning," James, who said he was in Dubai, told the newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday.

"Remember this isn't just about clearing my good name, but India's good name. Bureaucrats were not involved, politicians were not involved."

The Milan appeals court earlier this month sentenced the Italian boss of AgustaWestland's parent company Finmeccanica, Giuseppe Orsi, to four and a half years in jail for false accounting and corruption.

Italian prosecutors suspect kickbacks worth about 10 percent of the deal -- 50 million euros -- were paid to Indian officials in bribes when Gandhi's Congress party was in power.

In September a Delhi court issued a warrant for James' arrest.

Gandhi and other officials fiercely deny allegations of bribe-taking, which they say are motivated by a Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led campaign against their embattled party, struggling since a bitter electoral defeat in 2014.


© 2016 AFP

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