NATIONAL

New Delhi cashes in on goodwill with UAE

AgustaWestland scam accused Christian Michel being brought to the CBI headquarters in New Delhi.AP

AgustaWestland scam accused Christian Michel being brought to the CBI headquarters in New Delhi.AP   | Photo Credit: AP

Christian Michel, a key accused in the AugustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal case, was brought to India on board a Gulf Stream G3 jet owned by the Aviation Research Centre of the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW).

Mr. Michel was brought by a five-member team of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and RAW and two UAE nationals believed to be government officials. There were eight passengers and five crew on the flight.

Off shore operation

Indian and UAE diplomats have denied any link between the extradition of Mr. Michel and a major operation reportedly carried out by the Indian Coast Guard in March, in which the UAE Prime Minister’s daughter was taken into custody and repatriated.

An External Affairs Ministry official called the linkage between Mr. Michel’s extradition and the Latifa case “ridiculous”. A UAE official told The Hindu : “Extradition order has been done through a court order and has nothing to do with the [Latifa] incident.”

The Ministry, however, did not reply to a specific request from The Hindu to comment on reports in The Hindustan Times and newsportal The Print that had suggested a “quid pro quo”.

Coast Guard commandos stormed a vessel, Nostromo, in the Arabian Sea off Goa and took into custody at gunpoint Princess Latifa, daughter of Dubai Ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who had run away from home.

Friends of Ms. Latifa, who said they had helped her escape, alleged the Indian government had arranged for her to be sent back to the UAE, and she has not been heard from since. Ms. Latifa had recorded a long video prior to her escape from Dubai, accusing her father of illegal incarceration and torture.

Speaking to various media organisations, including the BBC and Australian Broadcasting, Herve Jaubert, captain of the Nostromo , which had carried Ms. Latifa from the UAE to India, said: “On March 4, we were attacked by Indian forces who boarded us from Indian Coast Guard boats. They were about 12 armed men. They beat us severely with guns, and they robbed us; took pretty much everything from the boat.”

In September, Amnesty International joined human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and ‘Detained in Dubai’, calling for India and the UAE to clarify their position.

“Amnesty International considers this incident to have possibly entailed multiple violations of international human rights law by both India and the UAE, including arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearance,” its statement said.

On Mr. Michel’s extradition, UAE sources say he was held at the Dubai airport when he tried to leave on June 13 this year. Since then, officials had been pursuing his case for extradition to India with their court, while holding him in custody.

On November 19, the UAE court dismissed objections from Mr. Michel’s lawyers and allowed the extradition. It is unclear why there was a lag between the time of the order and his extradition, but External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s travel to Dubai on December 3 and 4 for the India-UAE Joint Commission Meeting for Economic and Technical Cooperation was considered one factor.

Doval in charge

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who has made more than one visit to the UAE in the past few months to secure Mr. Michel’s custody, is believed to have monitored the progress constantly, until the plane finally landed in the Palam Technical Area at 10.30 p.m. on December 4.

CBI officials refused to comment about the details of the operation, referring questions to the NSA’s office.

Mr. Michel’s extradition, that of a national from a third country not wanted for more serious crimes such as terror or murder, is believed to be an exceptional gesture made by the UAE, and is seen as a credit to India’s diplomatic efforts in the past few years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UAE twice since he assumed office, in August 2015 and February 2018, and forged particularly close ties with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who visited India in February 2016 and then as the chief guest of Republic Day in January 2017.

The invitation to the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince was considered a major break from protocol for New Delhi, given that the guest at Republic Day up to then had been a head of state or government. “Given the closeness of the relationship now developing between India and the UAE, it was only a matter of time before Michel arrived in Delhi,” an official well versed with the case said.

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