India’s Youth Congress went on a damage control mode on Wednesday ahead of the crucial assembly elections in two states by expelling a leader for appearing for a high-profile British fugitive in a Delhi court without consulting the party.
Advocate Aljo K Joseph, above, (Image: Twitter) head of the legal unit of Youth Congress, appeared for Christian Michel a day after the key accused in the $509 million AgustaWestland helicopter deal scam was extradited from the UAE.
Michel is said to have given kickbacks running into millions of euros to a few top Congress leaders and bureaucrats for swinging the chopper deal in favour of AgustaWestland in 2007.
Michel’s sudden extradition to India late on Tuesday appears to have upset Congress as any disclosure of names of party leaders by him during questioning could ruin their chances in the 2019 general elections.
Joseph’s surprise appearance in Michel’s case on Wednesday was seen by critics of Congress as a confirmation that its top leaders had received kickbacks from AgustaWestland when they were in power.
Defending the expulsion of Joseph from party, Youth Congress leader Amrish Ranjan Pandey said in a release late on Wednesday that the advocate did not consult them before taking up Michel’s case. The party cannot accept such conduct, he said.
Joseph defended himself by saying he was trying to help Michel in his capacity as a lawyer and not as a Congress man.
Michel’s lawyer in Italy was scouting for an Indian lawyer on Tuesday and she sought his help through a friend with connections in Dubai, Joseph told ANI.
However, the explanations given by Youth Congress and Joseph were not convincing as he was spotted at the Congress headquarters soon after appearing in the Delhi court for Michel.
Many wonder whether it was all stage-managed by Congress to deliver important messages to Michel through Joseph and get constantly briefed about the case. Although Congress sacked him from party, he will remain Michel’s lawyer. Once the case ends, the party may take Joseph back into the fold.
Addressing a media conference on Thursday, spokesman of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sambit Patra, said that besides Joseph, two other lawyers, Vishnu Shankar and Sriram Parakkat, are working for Michel and they too have Congress links.
All the three lawyers have worked under senior Congress lawyers Salman Khurshid and Kapil Sibal. In fact, Congress has sent their lawyer team to save Michel, Parta said.
The Patiala House Court in Delhi on Wednesday granted Joseph permission to meet Michel twice a day. Joseph met Michel on Thursday morning and spent some time with him.
In the meantime, the Delhi court has granted the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) five days custody of Michel to extract all information from him pertaining to the corruption case. Investigators will pressure him to divulge the names of leaders who received kickbacks.
Among the notes in his diary seized by Swiss authorities and handed over to CBI are some initials such as ‘AP’ and ‘Fam’ and figures in euros against each. CBI is likely to force him to explain ‘AP’ and ‘Fam’.
For BJP, the extradition of Michel was fortuitous ahead of elections in Rajasthan and Telangana.
Addressing a massive election rally in Dousa, Rajasthan, on the last day of the campaign on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Michel, who once served Congress politicians, has been brought back and he will have to disclose secrets that he kept to himself while evading arrest for over a decade.