By Elton Gomes
Embattled businessman and fugitive, Vijay Mallya, could be on his way to India. Sources in the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have claimed that Mallya, who is wanted on loan default and money-laundering charges, has indicated to central agencies and the government, that he is willing to return to India to face the law.
A highly placed source spoke to the Times of India: “He has apparently approached the Enforcement Directorate to come back to India but nothing has been guaranteed to him. Even if he does come back, it does not mean he will not be prosecuted. He would then fight his case in Indian courts. He will probably spend one or two days in jail and then get bail.” The source then added that Mallya would be arrested immediately on his arrival and that there are no plans to drop the criminal charges against him.
Speaking to the Times of India over the phone, Mallya vehemently denied his return: “It’s ridiculous … all these breaking news stories in India. I have not heard anything of the sort …”
The development comes weeks after a PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) court summoned Mallya to appear before it on August 27. If Mallya fails to appear before the court, he could be declared a fugitive economic offender, after which investigating agencies could begin the process of confiscating his properties in India and abroad.
The fugitive liquor baron has mainly been accused of defaulting on loans worth Rs 9,000 crore. Additionally, Mallya has been accused of fraudulently “diverting” more than Rs 3,700 crore worth bank loan funds to a UK-based F1 motorsport firm, a T20 IPL team, and for enjoying private jet trips. He has also been held guilty of contempt of court for transferring $40 million to his children, thereby violating the court’s order.
Mallya’s mounting troubles
In July, a UK judge’s enforcement order permitted that Mallya’s home can be searched and that his assets can be seized as means of recovering the money he owed banks in India. The enforcement order gave 13 Indian banks the legal option of entering Mallya’s properties.
Arijit Basu, the managing director of State Bank of India (SBI), said that the banks were working closely with British authorities to recover maximum money out of Mallya’s assets. “We are very happy with the court order and with this kind of order we should be able to go after his assets,” he said to the press. Basu added that the banks “hope to recover [a] significant part of our money.” Basu said that the consortium has managed to recover Rs 963 crore after Mallya’s Indian assets were auctioned.
In June, the ED moved a court against Mallya in an attempt to declare him a “fugitive offender” and to confiscate assets worth Rs 12,500 crore. The ED filed an application before a Mumbai court under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill 2018 that allows the agency to confiscate all assets of an absconding loan defaulter.
What has been the UK’s stance on the case?
In February 2017, India requested the British High Commission for the extradition of Mallya, and sought his presence to face trial in a Rs 9,000 crore loan default case. Emphasising that India had a “legitimate” case against Mallya, the then-external affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said that the UK’s “sensitivity towards our concerns” will be evident if the extradition request is honoured. In May 2016, the UK had refused to deport Mallya, but said that it would help India extradite him.
India has been consistently urging the UK to deport Mallya rather than extradite him, as deporting a person is a faster process. But, as per the 1971 Immigration Act in the UK, a person is not required to continue to hold a valid passport to remain in the country, if they entered the country with a valid passport. The UK suggested that India should file for extradition under the 1993 extradition treaty, or under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, that was signed between both countries in 1992.
Mallya’s extradition from the UK will only be possible when he is accused or convicted of acts that are recognized as criminal offences in both countries. As per the extradition treaty, the UK is empowered to make provisional arrests in urgent cases.
Where does Indian law stand?
Speaking to Firstpost, criminal lawyer Majeed Memon said, “Mallya, as we know, is a highly resourceful person and is expected to defend himself and oppose extradition plea.” Memon added that the judicial hierarchy in Britain is such that even after the Chief Justice’s court has pronounced the final order for Mallya, he can seek leave to appeal. It is up to the government of India to demonstrate the incriminating evidence in a satisfactory way, Memon said.
Advocate Dinesh Tiwari said, “The kind of charges against Vijay Mallya and his conduct so far can be favorable for the Indian government to bring him home under the extradition treaty. Looking at the nature of allegations and the huge amount of money that Mallya has borrowed and not repaid to the banks is a good enough case against him,” according to the Firstpost report.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of India has said that it could only sentence Mallya after the government extradites him and produces him before the judges. A bench comprising Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U. U. Lalit said that it is the government’s duty to produce the convict before the court. Both justices in the ruling said, “We give him an opportunity to be present in court personally, while deciding on quantum of punishment,” according to LiveLaw.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.