Apprehending the conmen
It has been four months since Parliament passed the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 (FEOA) which was passed in August as the nation's tool to counter an increasing number of large economic offenders. Drafted desperately in the rising turmoil of Nirav Modi-Mehul Chowksi PNB fraud that stunned the nation. Their departure with the astounding figure left India with a list of several economic offenders who have capitalised on the Indian Banks. Be it PNB or SBI, these offenders are somewhere the reason our public lenders are plagued with huge Non Performing Assets (NPAs), in light of which the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act was enacted. The salient features of the Act, though brought under scrutiny, still stood valiantly to bring back these defaulters – serving justice and procuring stolen public money. However, easier said than done, these offenders are still at large while all that can be called progress down this line is Red Corner Notice (RCN) being issued by the Interpol, that too not on all of them. A significant breakthrough that the turn of the calendar witnessed was the declaration of absconding liquor baron Vijay Mallya as a fugitive economic offender (FEO) by a special PMLA court (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) upon a plea by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). This makes four complete months that the authority took to officially put Mallya on the defaulter lines, and get a green signal to confiscate his properties owing to the provisions of FEOA. While the confiscation, again, will take some time to be formalised with the court deciding on it on February 5, there are still at least 27 such large offenders who can be declared FEO. Parliament was informed on Friday about the 27 economic offenders in the last five years. 27 at large and one has been declared, not apprehended, yet. While the issue of Mallya's extradition from the UK has been taking turns, the matter of Mallya's extradition now rests with the Secretary of State Sajid Javid who will decide to agree or disagree with the verdict. These processes, though at an advanced stage now, has been near-stagnant for a long time owing to how Mallya escaped to the United Kingdom back in March 2016. The special court's decision follows 25 days after a UK court decided on Mallya's extradition back to India for his involvement in alleged loan fraud. Mallya is wanted for charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to an estimated Rs 9,000 crore. But while India eagerly eyed the conman, Mallya had made several statements in the past trying to justify his absence from the nation. His attempt to reach out to the banks to 'settle' the dues and clear charges that currently sit on him was a clear sign to mend ways. Yet, he has been rewarded with RCN and FEO. Something he might have been eagerly wanting to avoid, yet could not. The situation, however, has not yet become an unavoidable ordeal for him since he is still absconding. The fact that he could drive a UK judge to demand video of Indian Jails in Mallya's defence that the jails here pose inhumane conditions for inmates was the extent of his attempts to evade the catching list of predicaments that he left behind. Recently, the consortium of banks led by SBI, which credited loans to Mallya, filed a memo to consider Vijay Mallya's offer before the Karnataka High Court to settle the dues of defunct Kingfisher Airlines. They had earlier rejected the settlement offer from him. His financial dealings are being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate.
Minister of State for Finance Shiv Pratap Shukla told Lok Sabha how Interpol has been approached to issue RCNs against 20 out of 27 identified economic offenders who are yet to be declared FEO under the new law with applications filed. Further, extradition requests have been sent to the respective countries while the government fast-tracks their applications to bring them under the law and confiscate their assets. From the government's eye, everything that can be done to apprehend these defaulters is underway and it is only a matter of time. With Indian banks recovering from the huge NPA trauma, owing to recoveries made possible under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, and the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Securities Interest Act, 2002 (also known as the SARFAESI Act), the addition of FEOA, 2018 serves as the last of the triad needed to counter these absconding offenders. Having made a fool out of the banks and the government, these offenders have been successful in being out of their reach, but with the new legislation and the reinforced pursuit of their apprehension, we can expect them to be behind bars. But when is the pertinent question owing to their long absenteeism.