The Delhi High Court has dismissed the plea of Christian Michel James, an alleged middleman arrested in connection with the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam cases, seeking interim bail on the grounds of risk of contracting coronavirus in Tihar jail.
Justice Mukta Gupta, who conducted the hearing through video conferencing, said the apprehension of Michel that because of his vulnerable age and overcrowding in jail, he is likely to contact COVID-19 which may be detrimental to his health, is unfounded.
“As regards the apprehension of the petitioner (Michel) being infected by COVID-19 pandemic, it may be noted that the petitioner is lodged in a separate cell with only two other prisoners and thus, is not in a barrack or dormitory where there are a number of prisons. It is not the case of the petitioner that any of the two inmates residing with him are suffering from COVID-19.
"Hence, the apprehension of the petitioner also because of the vulnerable age and overcrowding in jail that he is likely to contact COVID-19 which may be detrimental to his health, is unfounded,” the judge said, in the order passed on Monday and uploaded on the court's website on Tuesday.
The ED and CBI, represented through advocates Amit Mahajan and D P Singh respectively, opposed the interim bail plea of Michel, saying he was lodged at the safest place in the country being the Tihar Jail and there is no threat of him coming in contact with any COVID-19 patient. The counsel also said that in Tihar Jail, each and every prisoner has been screened to check whether he is COVID-19 positive or not and no prisoner till date has been found to be suffering from the virus.
The 59-year-old Michel claimed that his health condition was critical and incompatible with the current prison status, especially to cope up with the risk of contracting the COVID-19 infection which could have a lethal effect on him as he is already suffering from serious pathologies. Michel, extradited from Dubai, was arrested by the ED on December 22, 2018.
On January 5 last year, he was sent to judicial custody in the ED case. He is also lodged in judicial custody in another case registered by the CBI in connection with the scam.
Michel is among the three alleged middlemen being probed in the case by the ED and the CBI. The other two are Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.
The court, in its order, also noted that despite being a British national, Michel has not been residing in the United Kingdom for the last 6-7 years and had to be extradited from Dubai after an inquiry. After coming to know about the arrest of others in Italy, he fled to Dubai, the court noted, adding that Michel is thus a “flight risk and also has no roots in the society”.
It said the charge sheet has been filed by CBI and complaint by the Enforcement Directorate, and further investigations are pending in both the cases and at this stage, his release even on interim bail is not warranted. “Hence, this court is not inclined to grant interim bail to the petitioner. Applications are accordingly dismissed,” the judge said.
Last week, the apex court had asked Michel to first approach the high court with his plea.
“The age and a pre-existing ill state of health will make the applicant's (Michel) body more susceptible to the said infection than any other ordinary prisoner with a normal health condition. Further, the presence within prisons of subjects who are tested positive for Covid19 pose a threat to the applicant considering his existing health condition and age,” the plea, through Vishnu Shankar and Aljo K Joseph, said.
In his plea, he also referred to the Supreme Court's March 16 order directing all the states and union territories to constitute high-level committees to consider releasing on parole or interim bail prisoners and undertrials, for offences entailing upto 7-year jail term, to decongest jails in the wake of coronavirus pandemic.
The high court said that pursuant to the apex court's March 23 order, a high powered committee of the high court laid down certain criterias for releasing the prisoners. It said Michel failed to qualify on three criterias laid down by the high powered committee, that is, being a foreign national, involved in more than one case not being on bail in others and the cases being under Prevention of Corruption Act and Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
It said that Michel's health condition be monitored and treated and he required an environment like home where the risk of contagion is lesser and social distancing can be effectively practiced. The regular bail plea of Michel, who was arrested in 2018 and is in judicial custody since January 5, 2019, is also pending before the high court where the CBI and ED have contended that he should not be granted the relief as he has a nexus with influential people and can influence witnesses.
He has been denied bail in both the matters by the trial court. He has approached the high court against the lower court's decision. The special CBI court had denied him the relief, saying there was no sufficient ground to grant bail.