Extradition issues

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The extradition of British businessman Christian Michel, alleged to be middleman in August Westland helicopters case, to India last week can be considered as a diplomatic success for various reasons. But this is being touted as a political victory by the ruling BJP-government and a big drama was enacted to suit the days before the elections in some states of the country. Going by the track record of India in securing the extradition of fugitives, this is definitely a successful operation by the Indian officials, who by and large have failed to do so in the past. It is also noteworthy that the drama over Michel’s extradition did not have a major impact on the electoral fortunes of the ruling party in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh as they expected. The electorate did not even appear to have taken a serious note of this event as was shown by the results in these states where the ruling party lost the election. Here is needs to be remembered that in the past, only about a third of the extradition requests of India have been accepted by other countries. In total, India has extradition treaties with some 44 countries and most of them have been successful with United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is because of the fact that 19 out of 66 fugitives have been deported or extradited to India by the UAE in the past one and a half decades. The reason for low success rate on this front in the past is the perception that India criminal justice system delivery is horribly slow. A particular case in point was the last high-profile case of the 1993 Mumbai blasts accused Abu Salem, who was extradited from Portugal in 2005 that after many hiccups in the process. Abu Salem’s trial was finally completed in 2017, when he was sentenced to life. Christian Michel’s case is also unique since he is a British, not an Indian national; and unlike similar cases in which extradition was granted, he is not wanted on serious criminal charges like murder. His extradition comes at a time when several other cases of businessmen, who have fled India are pending, causing unparalleled embarrassment to the present government. It is beyond doubt that Michel’s extradition for a case of corruption involving the previous Congress-led UPA government came at a timely juncture for the BJP-led NDA government, in the last stretch of the campaign for state elections. It is no secret that the government pursued the case of Michel single-mindedly, with the National Security Adviser, being main architect and reported to have made many trips to the UAE to secure the extradition. Apart from this, sight cannot be lost of the fact that actions of the Indian government are under close scrutiny from both the Great Britain and UAE. This is the reason why Britain has immediately sought consular access to Michel, which has not been granted by India till date and he is being questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for the past many days. But a high-pitch media hype was created over the entire issue as if no other extradition had taken place during the past 70 years. It is short-sightedness of the government and the ruling party to play the diplomatic success as a major political victory. The government must be aware that it is not just only the UAE, where courts deliberated for some months on whether to send Michel to India, but also other countries where India has about 150 pending requests at present are scrutinizing India’s actions in this case. The CBI, which has got the custody of Michel from a special court, must make an effort to adhere to internationally accepted norms of interrogation; otherwise it gives other fugitives fuel to oppose pleas for their extradition to India. It is important that such cases are handled with utmost caution in order to build India’s reputation as a country serious in ensuring justice delivery and that too expeditiously.