Marking a significant moment in the year-long trial, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London heard the case for fugitive economic offender Vijay Mallya’s extradition for the final time on Sunday. The following day, it ruled in favour of his return to India, escalating the case to UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s office who will take the final call.
“Decision to extradite Mallya is based on evidence as well as a resurgent, effective and robust willpower of Modi govt to pursue these elements,” said Union Minister Ravi Prasad following UK Court’s verdict on Vijay Mallya’s extradition verdict.
“It’s a great day in pursuit of fight against corruption of those who siphon crores of bank money and run out of country,” Prasad added.
The embattled liquor baron is wanted in India on several counts of alleged fraud and money laundering to the tune of about Rs 9,000 crore. Mallya is likely to appeal against the verdict within the next 14 days.
What was the UK court hearing for?
The trial was first brought to the Magistrates’ Court last December, and has since returned for a series of hearings that lasted more than the initial seven days earmarked for it. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) team led by Mark Summers laid out the Indian government’s prima facie case of fraud and money laundering against Mallya, a year after the CBI registered a case against Mallya following a complaint by the State Bank of India (SBI).
In June 2017, the ED too filed a chargesheet under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) alleging that Mallya owed 13 banks some Rs 9,000 crore, and had fled to the UK on March 2, 2016, after the consortium led by SBI closed in on him.
The Ministry of External Affairs submitted an extradition request to the UK in February 2017, which was cleared by the UK government the following month. The liquor baron was arrested in April after he dishonoured multiple summons and has been out on bail since then.
Who all were present?
A team including CBI’s Joint Director S. Sai Manohar and two Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials left for London on Sunday to attend the crucial hearing. Manohar replaced CBI’s second-in-command Rakesh Asthana who had been attending the trial till now.
Asthana was placed on enforced leave by the government in October, following charges of corruption in another case, levelled against him by former CBI Director Alok Verma. Verma too has been exiled after similar claims made by Asthana led to a bitter feud between the nodal investigation agency’s top officials. Asthana, who also probed the AgustaWestland chopper scam, was accused earlier this year of accepting bribes in connection to another money laundering case against meat exporter and businessman Moin Qureshi.
How has Mallya pled?
Claiming that the huge loans he took from banks (and later defrauded on) went into keeping his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines functional, Mallya recently tweeted, “With respect where have I defrauded Banks ? I did not borrow a single rupee. The borrower was Kingfisher Airlines. Money was lost due to a genuine and sad business failure. Being held as guarantor is not fraud.”
Mallya’s defence team, led by the Queen’s Counsel Clare Montgomery, also deposed a series of experts to prove that the airline’s alleged default of bank loans was caused by business failure rather than “dishonest” and “fraudulent” activity by its owner. Montgomery had also appeared for the Swedish Judicial Authority in the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange extradition case.
Airlines struggling financially partly becoz of high ATF prices. Kingfisher was a fab airline that faced the highest ever crude prices of $ 140/barrel. Losses mounted and that’s where Banks money went.I have offered to repay 100 % of the Principal amount to them. Please take it.
— Vijay Mallya (@TheVijayMallya) December 5, 2018
The court was also informed that in 2016, the 13-bank consortium rejected an offer by the liquor baron to pay back nearly 80 per cent of the principal loan amount owed to them.
Terms of extradition
Vijay Mallya challenged his extradition on the grounds that the case against him is “politically motivated”. Furthermore, he contested the return based on “human rights conditions” in Indian prisons, following which photographs and videos of his prospective high-security cell (at Barrack 12 of Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail) had to be produced in the UK court to prove if they met the right standards.
Through the course of the trial, Summers has sought to establish a “blueprint of dishonesty” against the tycoon and that human rights grounds should not pose any statutory bars to his extradition.
Since when has he been AWOL?
In October 2015, the CBI issued a notice asking for his detainment if he tried to leave India, only to reissue a diluted lookout circular in November, according to which, if Mallya reached any port trying to leave India, the CBI was to be notified but the businessman should be able to continue on his travels. The iteration of the circular remains a mystery but in March 2016, Mallya fled the country taking advantage of the dilution in the CBI lookout notice against him.
Since then, he has been in a self-imposed exile in London, and has refused to return. His house in London was foreclosed to pay the UBS and Swiss Bank back. On the run from creditors and fighting extradition from Britain, the latest hearing brings him the closest to return for the first time in two years.
Although he claimed he wants to pay his dues to the public sector banks, Mallya is not ready to admit guilt and wants to stop the narrative that he stole money for personal benefits. Earlier this year, he stirred up a new controversy after claiming that he had intimated a senior lawmaker in the BJP-NDA government with his plans to relocate, right before leaving the country. Later, he tried to backtrack and refuted claims of collusion, saying that nobody in the government had tipped him off about CBI’s warrant and that he had left India at the time for a conference in Geneva.
Mallya’s sensational accusation, however, invited the opposition to raise fingers against the ruling BJP government for their laxity and leniency, or as CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury puts it, enabling “big defaulters to loot public money and scoot”. The Centre has since then redoubled its efforts to get Mallya back in the country.
Mallya’s extradition comes just days after the Christian Michel, a middleman in the Choppergate scandal, was extradited to India from Dubai. It also arrives at the heels of Modi’s nine-point agenda to combat fugitive economic offenders which was presented at the G20 summit in Argentina last week.
What happens now?
In case Mallya does not file an appeal against the verdict to extradite him, and the Secretary of State agrees with the magistrate’s decision, he will then be extradited from the UK within 28 days of the Home Secretary’s extradition order. In case of an appeal, however, the Indian government can also file leave to appeal to the High Court within 14 days.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.