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Son’s plea for detained UK businessman ‘caught in prisoner-swap with Princess Latifa’

Written by on 26/02/2021

The son of a British businessman detained in a notorious Indian prison has told Sky News he hopes that Boris Johnson will act to save his father.

Christian Michel, 59, was jailed in 2018 in the fallout of one India’s biggest defence deal scandals.

His lawyers claim he was extradited from the UAE to India in a de-facto prisoner swap with Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler who attempted to leave the country in 2018.

Mr Michel is currently locked up in Tihar Prison in Delhi where he claims to have been kept in inhumane conditions, including being subject to solitary confinement for long periods and deprived of sleep.

On Friday, the United Nations demanded the immediate release of Mr Michel, stating his detention is unlawful.

Mr Michel is accused of being involved in corruption relating to a multi-million-pound helicopter contract, something he denies
Image: Mr Michel is accused of being involved in corruption relating to a helicopter contract – but he denies the claims

In the family’s first-ever interview, son Alaric Michel, 26, told Sky News how the UN’s statement has brought hope to his family who have not seen Mr Michel in three years.

He said: “What’s horrible is you only have two parents in your life. I thankfully have two amazing parents. Now, when one is taken away from you, it’s tough to deal with, specifically at a young age.

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“I have a little sister who’s turning 17 now, she’s been growing up without a father pretty much for quite some years now.”

He added: “I think it’s good that we’re finally having the vocal and physical support of the UN, which is obviously something we need. Because if you have the UN’s backing, then clearly there is something that’s going wrong and it’s not on our end.”

Mr Michel, pictured here with family, is at the centre of a dispute over an Indian defence contract
Image: Mr Michel pictured here with his family

Christian Michel, born in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, is accused of being involved in corruption relating to a multimillion-pound helicopter contract.

In 2010, a deal was struck between India and defence company AgustaWestland for 12 helicopters, worth more than 556 million euros.

Three years later, an investigation which named Mr Michel began in Italy. It examined alleged fraud regarding the contract between India and the English-Italian company.

The Italian investigation acquitted those accused, while an investigation in India led to Mr Michel being accused of paying bribes to Indian officials.

Alaric Michel is worried about his father’s health and hopes that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will intervene.

“My one main concern obviously is my father’s health… He’s held in prison in some of the worst conditions.

“That’s an aspect I’m still struggling to deal with.”

He said he hopes Mr Johnson will help his father.

“I hope he will take into consideration that he is a UK citizen and a UK citizen under his protection as prime minister of our country. It’s important for people to realise this is happening to my father but truly it could be anyone.”

Princess Latifa Al Maktoum
Image: Princess Latifa Al Maktoum, daughter of the ruler of Dubai, tried to flee Dubai in 2018

In 2018, Christian Michel was working in Dubai. That year he was arrested and extradited to India.

Speaking from a Dubai prison cell before his extradition to India, Mr Michel says in a video, previously unseen but recently viewed by Sky News: “In 2018, everything changed.

“An event happened in the Indian Ocean which completely changed my life and the proceedings that I was under.”

He adds: “The daughter of the ruler made an attempt to escape from this country, Dubai, on the boat, and was captured in the Indian Ocean by the Indian coast guard on the request of the Ruler of Dubai to the Prime Minister of India.

“So now I’m sitting in a jail in Dubai facing extradition.

“None of this would even concern me, but for a number of meetings that took place in July, after the return of Latifa.”

He claims he was repeatedly pressured in those meetings by Indian authorities to sign a statement claiming he had paid money to the Indian opposition party. He refused.

In December that year, he was finally extradited to India when the UAE upheld a second request from the Indian authorities.

Mr Michel’s claim that he was given to India in return for the country’s help in the Latifa case has been recognised by the UN.

In a statement, the UN Working Group into Arbitrary Detention said: “The Working Group notes with concern the submission by the source, which has not been disputed by either government, that the approval by the UAE of India’s extradition request was a de-facto swap for India’s capture and return of a high-profile detainee to Dubai reportedly authorised by the Indian prime minister…”

It added that “the appropriate remedy would be for the government of India to release Mr Michel immediately and for both governments to accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law”.

Mr Michel's family have now not seen him in three years.
Image: Mr Michel’s family have now not seen him in three years

Lawyer Toby Cadman, who is working pro bono to free Mr Michel, said: “The procedure followed in Christian’s case can only be described as a flagrant denial of justice and a circumvention of the rule of law.”

Lawyer Francois Zimeray, who is also representing Mr Michel and his family, told Sky News: “This is a rare and important decision that condemns two states together. No state should allow such methods, against any notion of justice and dignity.”

The Indian authorities have rejected the UN’s allegations that due process was not followed and told the UN it has an “independent and vibrant judiciary”.

They also said that Mr Michel’s “arrest and subsequent custody is in accordance with the judicial process established by law”.

The Indian and UAE embassies did not respond to our requests for comment.

A UK foreign office spokesperson said staff are supporting Mr Michel and regularly raise his case with the Indian authorities, including with the Indian High Commissioner to the UK. They added that the UN Working Group’s statement is being “noted” and “considered”.

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Meanwhile, Ireland’s former president Mary Robinson has admitted she made a “big mistake” and was “naive” in relation to Princess Latifa’s case.

The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had met Princess Latifa at a lunch following an invitation from Dubai’s royal family in 2018 – months after she had attempted to flee the country. Ms Robinson later described her as a “troubled young woman”.

Speaking to RTE on Friday, Ms Robinson said that she “100% believes Latifa now” and said she should be freed, adding: “I made a mistake. I let my heart lead my head. I went to help a friend. I was naive. I should have been more alert.”

 Sky News

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