ED opposes Agusta accused bail: Flight risk, may try to tamper evidence

Opposing Agusta Westland VVIP chopper scam accused Christian Michel James’s bail plea, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has contended that he is not a citizen of India and is thus a “flight risk”. The agency also said that the presence of a “key accused”, who is accused of “having played a pivotal role in the entire case”, is “crucial at all stages” of the ongoing probe.

In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the agency said, “His extradition has been obtained with extreme difficulties and procedural impediments”.

It said that “the offence committed in the present case contains a complex web of transactions across jurisdictions and the investigation with respect to the same is ongoing and the presence of the petitioner is crucial at all stages. It is apprehended that if the petitioner is enlarged on bail, he might flee to avoid the investigation…”

Rejecting the contentions of the accused, the ED said, “Article 17 of the Extradition Treaty with UAE not only permits trial for offences in respect of which extradition of an accused person is sought but also for the offences connected herewith”.

The petitioner “is a key accused in the instant case and is accused of having played a pivotal role in the entire case being a middleman engaged by M/s Agusta Westland for obtaining confidential information regarding procurement process of VVIP helicopters by the Government of India and was admittedly paid Euro 42 million for influencing the contract in its favour under the guise of five contracts…through 2 of his firms…” the affidavit stated.

The ED also stated that “during the course of his custodial interrogation the accused has tried to pass confidential papers to his counsel at the time of legal access that further investigation in the present case is still ongoing and many crucial documents are required to be collected across jurisdiction for the purpose of the investigation”. Therefore, the affidavit mentioned, “it is strongly apprehended that the petitioner may try to tamper with the witnesses or evidence and obstruct judicial process”.

During his interrogation, the ED submitted, James “undertook to provide bank statements of his companies and the agreements and other relevant documents”. But no information has been provided till date,” it stated.

The ED affidavit to court stated that James’s “successive bail applications…have been rejected on merit and at this stage there is no force in the averment made that no specific allegation or role has been attributed to the petitioner”.

Earlier, the CBI had also opposed his plea for bail.

James had moved the SC seeking bail and the benefit of CrPC Section 436A, which says that undertrials who have undergone detention for a period extending up to one-half of the maximum period of imprisonment specified for the offence charged with shall be released by the court on personal bond with or without sureties.

James was extradited from Dubai and was arrested by the ED on December 22, 2018.

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