New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned the Centre that for how long will it keep Christian Michel, who is a foreign national, behind the bars, and added that if he was an Indian, in similar circumstances, he would have been granted bail.
Michel, who is facing investigation by the CBI and ED in connection with AgustaWestland case, had moved the apex court challenging the Delhi High Court order dismissing his bail pleas.
A bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising justice P.S. Narasimha said one thing is worrying us is that the complexity of trial- as many as 250 witnesses are to be examined, and added not a single sanction for prosecution for the government officials who are accused. The bench noted the FIR was registered in 2013, and the trial has hardly moved.
It said Michel has been in jail for over four and half years, merely because he is a foreigner. Chief Justice told Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, appearing for a Central agency, “How long will you keep him in, he is a foreign national…if he was an Indian citizen (in similar circumstances) would have been granted bail…deprivation of liberty, how it is justified?” The bench queried, can it impose some conditions to ensure his appearance?
Michel’s counsel contended his case was covered under Section 436A of CrPC and his client has almost finished the maximum sentence of five years for the offences, which he has been charged with. He emphasised a fugitive can only be tried for offences mentioned in the extradition treaty and his client has been charged under Sections 120B, 415, 420.
The counsel submitted that Michel was extradited for an offence which is punished with 5 years and he has completed almost 5 years, and further argued that it is highly unlikely that the trial will proceed in the next few years and for more than 9 years investigation has been going on.
Raju submitted that Section 21 of the Extradition Act, 1962 has to be read with India’s extradition treaty with the UAE and added that Section 21 states that when any person is surrendered by a foreign state, such person shall not be tried in India for an offence other than the extradition offence in connection to which he was returned.
He added this provision has to be read with the treaty, which provided that such a person could also be tried for a connected offence.
The bench expressed concern over the relationship between the treaty and the statute and observed the statute says that we can only try him for what he was surrendered or extradited and the limitation imposed by our statute cannot be removed by a treaty.
It further added that it is an important matter of consideration, relationship between the treaty and the statute. The bench sought a note from Raju on the issue, so that the court can interpret law based on facts.
After hearing arguments, the bench scheduled the matter for further hearing in the second week of January 2023.
The Rs 3,600-crore alleged scam relates to the purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters from AgustaWestland. In May this year, the top court had issued notice to both CBI and ED, and sought their replies on Michel’s bail pleas.
Michel moved the top court challenging the Delhi High Court order passed in March this year, dismissing his bail plea