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Indian court orders Briton held during copter bribery probe

Christian James Michel, center, a British man accused of bribery in a $670 million helicopter deal between India and an Italian defense company returns after appearing before a Central Bureau of Investigation court in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec.5, 2018. India's federal investigative agency said Tuesday that it extradited Michel from the United Arab Emirates to face charges of channeling money to Indian contacts. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

NEW DELHI (AP) — An Indian court on Wednesday ruled that officials may hold a British man while they investigate him for alleged bribery in a canceled $670 million helicopter deal between India and an Italian defense company.

Judge Arvind Kumar allowed Briton Christian James Michel to meet briefly with his attorney, who sought unsuccessfully to have him released on bail while the charges are investigated. Michel was extradited to India from Dubai on Tuesday to face charges of channeling bribes to Indian contacts.

Michel was detained in Dubai last year after India asked the United Arab Emirates for his extradition.

Indian investigators said in court documents that Michel transferred the money from a British subsidiary of Finmeccanica, which has since been renamed Leonardo S.p.A.

In 2014, India received three of 12 AW101 helicopters it had ordered to fly senior officials but then halted the deal after the bribery allegations surfaced.

The Central Bureau of Investigation said Michel was a frequent visitor to India when the deal was being negotiated and “was operating as a middleman for defense procurements through a wide network of sources cultivated in the Indian Air Force and Ministry of Defense at different levels, including retired and serving officials.”

Indian investigators want Michel to reveal the names of Indian politicians involved in the alleged scheme. The opposition Congress party was ruling the country at the time.

With national elections due in March-April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party is expected to try to embarrass the Congress party, its main rival, if Michel names some of its leaders as beneficiaries in the helicopter deal.

India is upgrading its military and has become the world’s biggest arms and defense equipment buyer in recent years. Arms deals have often been marred by allegations that foreign companies paid huge kickbacks to Indian officials.

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