South Asia and Beyond

‘Christian Michel’s arrest was likely to have been a quid-pro-quo between India and UAE’

The arrest of British arms dealer and middleman Christian Michel continues to generate headlines even today. A UN panel report which has accused the Indian government of “arbitrarily detaining” Michel who has been in jail since 2018 along with renewed attempts by his family urging British prime minister Boris Johnson to push New Delhi for his release, shows that the matter is far from closed internationally. However senior investigative journalist Raju Santhanam who is the author of the book The Untold Story of Christian Michel and AgustaWestland believes that while such attempts will come to little especially since the UK government has had no real interest in following up the matter, he does point out that Michel’s arrest raises questions that remain to be answered.

In an interview with Ashwin Ahmad Santhanam points out that allegations of a swap with the UAE – India is alleged to have handed over UAE Princess Sheikha Latifa in exchange for Michel who was in Dubai at the time – is more than likely to be true and adds that it is not the first time that an extradition request has been secretly carried out between India and the UAE. Citing the case of Romesh Bhandari, the defence secretary of the Indira Gandhi government who managed to persuade the UAE to hand over five Khalistani terrorists to India in 1984, Sanathanam believes that secret negotiations for high-profile figures are par for the course and might possibly be on the anvil for other figures such as Vijay Mallya who continues to remain in the UK despite having recently lost a UK High Court case dismissing his plea for extradition.

On whether new revelations are likely to come out in the Michel trial, Santhanam points out that the lack of hard evidence combined with the slow speed of trials on defence cases suggests that might not be the case. Pointing to the Bofors case which dragged on for 25 years by which time the main protagonists had died and middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi had long since moved to Italy, he remains doubtful of anything concrete emerging from the Michel trial. Political games and headlines would happen from time to time but no serious revelations against the other people who were allegedly involved such as former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, Michel’s partner Guido Haschke or even the Gandhi family and senior members of the Congress party – whom Haschke has alleged were in full knowledge of the deal – are likely to emerge.

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