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

Written by on 27 February 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, has been held in custody without trial since 2018 on charges of allegedly bribing officials over a major helicopter deal that became one of India’s biggest defence scandals.

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.

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

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

She had tried to flee her home country in March 2018 but was thwarted when armed Indian commandos boarded the yacht she was sailing on off the coast of Goa – in an operation the Dubai royal family called a rescue mission.

Mr Michel’s claim he was given to India in return for the country’s help in the Latifa case has been recognised by the United Nations, which has demanded his immediate release, stating the detention was unlawful.

Several months after Latifa’s swift return to Dubai, Mr Michel was extradited to India.

Speaking from a Dubai prison cell before his extradition, 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”.

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.”

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.

“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.

He was acquitted in previous trials and maintains his innocence to this day.

Alaric Michel 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 added: “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.”

In a statement sent to India and the UAE governments, the UN Working Group into Arbitrary Detention said it “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.

But Anurag Srivastava, a spokesperson for India’s ministry of external affairs, said: “We have seen selective leaks of the opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concerning the case of Mr Christian James Michel, even before its official release.”

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“At the outset we would like to make it clear that the Working Group is not a judicial body, and therefore, its opinions are not legally binding on the member states,” he said.

The extradition was done entirely in accordance with the provisions of the extradition treaty signed between two sovereign states, Mr Srivastava said, adding that the arrest and subsequent custody were done as per the due process of law and cannot be considered arbitrary on any grounds.

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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