8 DEC 2018
The Michel test case
The extradition may have been a diplomatic success, but don’t tout it as a political victory
The extradition to India of British businessman Christian Michel, alleged to be the middleman in the AgustaWestland helicopters case who bribed officials to secure the deal, is a diplomatic success for a number of reasons. India’s track record with securing the extradition of fugitives from justice is modest, with only about a third of all requests since 2002 being accepted. Amongst the 44 countries India has extradition treaties with, the United Arab Emirates has been the most amenable; it has deported or extradited 19 of 66 fugitives to India in the past decade and a half. A reason for the low success rate in the past is the perception that India’s criminal justice system delivers too slowly. A case in point was the last high-profile case of the 1993 Mumbai blasts accused Abu Salem, who was extradited from Portugal in 2005. His trial was finally completed in 2017, when he was sentenced to life. Mr. 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 the government some embarrassment. No doubt, Mr. 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, during the last stretch of the campaign for State elections. It is no secret that the government pursued the case of Mr. Michel single-mindedly, with the National Security Adviser reported to have made several trips to the UAE to secure the extradition.
However, it is short-sighted for the government and the ruling party to play the diplomatic success as a political victory. The government must be aware that its actions in the Michel case are under close scrutiny, not just from the UAE, whose courts deliberated for some months on whether to send him to India, but other countries where India has about 150 pending requests at present. Thus the Central Bureau of Investigation, which has received custody of Mr. Michel for five days from a special court, must take pains to adhere to internationally accepted norms of interrogation, lest it gives other fugitives fuel to oppose pleas for their extradition to India. The U.K. has also taken up strenuously its request for consular access to Mr. Michel, and New Delhi’s record in fulfilling its diplomatic obligations may impact high-profile cases in U.K. courts, including Vijay Mallya’s and Nirav Modi’s. If handled professionally and without politicisation, Mr. Michel’s extradition could reveal important leads in the helicopters case. It would also bolster India’s reputation as a country serious about ensuring that justice is served, and expeditiously so.
The U.S. action against a top Huawei executive threatens the tariff thaw with China
The 90-day trade truce between China and the United States reached over the weekend on the sidelines of the G20 meet in Argentina is already proving to be fragile. Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested recently by Canadian authorities, acting on an extradition request from the U.S. Ms. Wanzhou is the daughter of the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei, a former member of the Chinese military. The arrest happened around the time U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Buenos Aires to defuse trade tensions between their countries, but news of the arrest broke only on Wednesday. Huawei at this moment has been accused of breaching American sanctions against Iran, but U.S. lawmakers have also been concerned about the Chinese government using the company to carry out spying operations on foreign soil. Last year, it is worth noting, Chinese telecom giant ZTE reached a settlement with the U.S. government over charges of exporting banned items to Iran. Markets across the world were negatively affected on Thursday as trade tensions looked to flare up once again between the world’s two largest economies.
It is hard to determine whether the present U.S. action against the Huawei official is based on legitimate concerns about national security or if the U.S. has simply attacked China on yet another front in the ongoing trade war. To be sure, other countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, have also been quite wary about doing business with Huawei due to the alleged gathering of intelligence by the company. In particular, they fear that Huawei’s involvement in building their 5G network could lead to problems linked to cyber-espionage. At the same time, radical anti-Chinese politicians in the U.S. have every reason to exaggerate national security concerns simply in order to justify protectionist sanctions against Chinese companies. Huawei has clearly been seen by many as a serious threat to the global domination exerted by American technology companies. Either way, recent actions are bound to have a negative impact on U.S.-China trade ties as the Chinese will not be too happy about the continuing assault on multinational companies which have their roots in China. U.S. concerns about national security are also closely related to accusations against Huawei of violating intellectual property rights with the tacit approval of the Chinese government. The arrest might thus suggest that the U.S. may not go soft on its demand for the protection of intellectual property rights during its talks with the Chinese authorities in the next few months. With the rapid escalation in trade tensions over the year, it will take serious efforts to bring a lasting solution that is acceptable to both American and Chinese politicians.