by Elton Gomes
Fugitive economic offender, and a wanted man in India, Vijay Mallya on Monday told a special court that it is impossible that he has said to have “refused to return to India” as he is cooperating with the UK authorities over extradition proceedings, and he has submitted himself to that jurisdiction.
In his reply submitted through his lawyers to the special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court, Mallya said that his adherence to the UK law does not render him a “fugitive economic offender,” as reported by Live Mint.
What Mallya said
Through his counsel, Mallya was replying in the PMLA court of Judge M.S. Azmi to an Enforcement Directorate (ED) application that sought to declare him a fugitive under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act.
In his reply, Mallya stated that “despite continuing efforts over the last two to three years, when efforts have been made to repay the public sector banks, instead of taking steps to facilitate the process of repayment to banks, the ED has, at every step, resisted this effort,” PTI reported.
Amit Desai, senior counsel for Mallya, argued that the court should first hear the intervention petition that has been filed by various stakeholders, including the State Bank of India (SBI), Standard Chartered Bank, United Spirits Ltd, and Mallya’s relatives.
How has the ED responded?
Hiten Venegaonkar, an advocate representing the Enforcement Directorate, argued that the intervention petition is only concerned with protecting properties. Venegaonkar said that if the court first hears the plea to declare Mallya a fugitive economic offender and if the investigation agencies successfully convince the court, hearing other cases will not be necessary at all.
Mallya claims to have met Jaitley before leaving India, but Jaitley denies
Mallya’s recent comments made headlines wherein he claimed to have had a “meeting” with Union finance minister Arun Jaitley before he could leave for India.
Mallya–who is wanted on charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around Rs 9,000 crore–said he met Jaitley before leaving India.
“I left because I had a scheduled meeting in Geneva, I met the finance minister before I left, repeated my offer to settle with the banks… that’s the truth,” Mallya told reporters outside London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Mallya also said that he had informed Jaitley that he would be leaving for London, NDTV reported.
Coming under heavy criticism from the opposition, Jaitley immediately denied Mallya’s statement. The finance minister wrote on his Facebook page, “My attention has been drawn to a statement made to the media by Vijay Mallya on having met me with an offer of settlement,” as per a PTI report.
Jaitley then described the complete turn of events in the post. He wrote, “The statement is factually false in as much as it does not reflect truth. Since 2014, I have never given him any appointment to meet me and the question of his having met me does not arise. However, since he was a member of Rajya Sabha and he occasionally attended the House, he misused that privilege on one occasion while I was walking out of the House to go to my room. He paced up to catch up with me and while walking uttered a sentence that, ‘I am making an offer of settlement’.
Having been fully briefed about his earlier ‘bluff offers’, without allowing him to proceed with the conversation, I curtly told him ‘there was no point talking to me and he must make offers to his bankers.’ I did not even receive the papers that he was holding in his hand.
Besides this one sentence exchange where he misused his privilege as a Rajya Sabha member, in order to further his commercial interest as a bank debtor, there is no question of my having ever given him an appointment to meet me,” according to PTI.
Mallya to be tried under fugitive economic offender bill
On August 27, a special court in Mumbai was to decide whether Mallya could be given the tag of “fugitive economic offender” under the new law passed by the parliament.
The ED filed its application against Mallya in June; thereafter, the agency soon filed its second charge sheet in the case against him. A special court in Mumbai had summoned him on August 27. If Mallya failed to appear before the court, he risked being declared a fugitive economic offender.
Why is bringing Mallya back so difficult?
Suchetana Ray, in her article for the Hindustan Times, suggests that bringing back the fugitive liquor baron could be an uphill task for India as the extradition treaty with Britain comes with several layers of safeguards for Mallya.
“It is difficult to persuade authorities in UK that committing a financial crime makes a person a fugitive. Also, their sensitivity towards any human rights violation makes extradition from England difficult for any country,” criminal lawyer Majeed Memon was quoted in Ray’s article. Experts say that the dual criminality clause is important in initiating extradition proceedings. This means that the accused has to be charged with an offence that the both the UK and India recognise as a crime.
However, the accused does have several grounds of defence, under Article 9 of the extradition treaty between the two nations. An extradition demand can be challenged citing possible persecution or the “trivial nature” of offence.
The ED’s money laundering case against Mallya is India’s best chance to get Mallya back. This is because money laundering is a criminal offence in both India and UK.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius