By JYOTI MALHOTRA
Highly-placed sources in government have told ThePrint that “there is, indeed, a quid pro quo” – that the princess’s father, none other than Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prevailed upon the Narendra Modi government to return his daughter to him. In exchange, Christian James Michel, the alleged middleman in the Rs 3600 crore-AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal, was reportedly handed over to Delhi earlier this week.
Over the last 48 hours, ever since the CBI acknowledged the “guidance of (national security advisor) Ajit Doval” in Michel’s recovery, rumours have been rife that it was Doval who thought up the March operation in which the Dubai princess, Sheikha Latifa, was arrested some 50 km off the coast of Goa and handed back to the UAE authorities.
Several other threads are hanging in the air. At the G-20 summit in Argentina last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a highly publicised meeting with the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman even as he was being chastised by the rest of the world for the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The connections between the Saudi royals and the UAE rulers are well-known.
Meanwhile, Latifa was meticulously planning her escape from her gilded cage in Dubai.It had taken her seven years to do so. In February, with the help of an ex-French spy, a Finnish capoeira teacher and a Filipino crew, she undertook a daring operation, which involved driving to Oman, getting into a jet-ski that took her into international waters, after which they sailed towards India’s coastal waters, a BBC documentary has revealed.
It is believed that none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed off on that March operation, when the Coast Guard, instead of rescuing a stranded young woman and bringing her to safety, handed her back to the UAE authorities.
Latifa, according to a video that she recorded before her escape attempt, talks about how she wants to desperately get away, and that if “you’re watching this… either I’m dead or in a very, very, very bad situation”.
Latifa’s lawyer, Toby Cadman, has since told the Arabic news site Al Bawaba that he had taken the case to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in July, where he pleaded with the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to issue notices to the Indian and UAE governments. But neither government has replied.
The forced return of the Dubai ruler’s daughter took place in March. Only a month before, Prime Minister Modi visited the UAE for the second time in celebration of an old relationship that has been growing leaps and bounds – it is on the sweat and blood of migrants from India and the rest of South Asia that Dubai has been physically built, one skyscraper at a time, something the Dubai ruler acknowledged during the Kerala floods and reportedly offered Rs 700 crore in aid.
In June, three months after Latifa was returned, UAE’s foreign minister announced that his country would invest $75 billion in India over the next few years.
And now, earlier this week, British national Christian Michel was extradited from Dubai, the first time a foreigner has been sent back to India on corruption charges.
(Cases of earlier extraditions involving third-country nationals, but not to India, have been related to paedophiles, government sources told ThePrint.)
Modi has already taken credit for Michel’s return, telling a rally in Rajasthan that Michel will soon sing like a canary and spill the secrets of the alleged kickbacks in the AgustaWestland deal and the connection with the Gandhi family.
Certainly, Michel is a political tool. He will be brought out of CBI custody as and when over the next few weeks and months, in the run up to the general elections in the summer of 2019, and displayed as proof of Modi’s fight against corruption.
The other big projects haven’t worked certainly – not demonetisation and certainly not bringing back the black money stashed abroad and depositing Rs 15 lakh in each person’s account. GST was a double blow, but at least the “one nation-one tax” is limping back to some sort of normalcy.
As for the connection between the Dubai princess and Christian Michel, Sheikha Latifa’s forced return to Dubai, a serious human rights violation, seems to have earned the Narendra Modi government enormous brownie points with UAE.
The acceleration of Michel’s case in the Dubai courts begins to take place soon after. From September-November, Michel is declared a ‘wanted’ person, he loses his bail conditions, the top court upholds the lower court’s decision and the ministry of justice – a political decision – orders the start of extradition proceedings.
A public prosecutor told Khaleej Times that Switzerland and Italy had earlier ignored extradition requests for Michel.
Note that none of India’s other extradition requests have been accepted by foreign governments – neither Vijay Mallya, nor Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. Only the UAE has delivered.
Ajit Doval, India’s super NSA, allegedly, is at the centre of all these operations. India’s top spymaster could well be its newest James Bond, going where no man has dared to go before.
Welcome to this brave new world.