Come back Mallya!
A UK court on Monday ordered the extradition of business tycoon Vijay Mallya to India, where he is facing multiple charges of money laundering and reneging on payments of loans worth thousands of crores taken from public sector banks. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which has been pursuing Mallya's extradition from the UK said they are positive that Mallya would be extradited. Though Mallya may seek recourse in UK's higher courts against the order of his extradition, Monday's verdict comes as a major setback for the business tycoon who fled the country in 2016 when banks and law enforcement agencies began to aggressively pursue the loans taken by him and his companies, especially the loss-making Kingfisher Airlines. Recently, Mallya had offered to repay 100 per cent of the principal amount and wondered why the Karnataka High Courts, where the cases against him are being heard, had not taken his offer seriously. Mallya says that he made the offer even two years ago in the wake of allegations that he has chosen to flee the country. The UK court's order to extradite Mallya is an important development as far as India's efforts to get fugitive businessmen extradited to the country is concerned. Mallya had claimed in a UK court that the cases against him are 'politically motivated'. He had also claimed that on his return to India, he may be arrested and put in a prison where the conditions are absolutely pitiable and inhuman. Indian agencies pursuing his extradition countered Mallya's claims and even provided a video of a cell at the Arthur Road jail in Pune, where they claimed Mallya could be lodged on his return to India.
There is a difference of opinion between Mallya and the banks regarding how much he really owes them. While Mallya puts the figure in the range of Rs 3,000 crore, sources in the banking sector claim that Mallya owes upwards of Rs 9,000 crore. Mallya says he is ready to pay the principal amount and he has a right to seek a settlement of his loans whereby banks can waive off the interests accrued on the principal amount. Mallya, who is also a Rajya Sabha MP, claims that his airline incurred heavy losses for compulsory flying on unprofitable routes mandated by the government as a part of its license agreement. Mallya's critics point out that he continued to live a king-size life even when most of his business ventures were drowning. He never cared about repaying the loans taken in the name of his companies. And, when the situation turned too difficult to handle, he chose to flee the country quietly by a midnight flight. Initially, he maintained that he had left the country for usual business meetings abroad. But later on, when investigating agencies asked him to return and appear before the court, he ignored all such notices, prompting government agencies to seek his extradition from the UK where he has been living ever since he fled the country in 2016. Though India and Britain have signed an extradition treaty, there are not many cases in which extradition has actually taken place. A major reason why extradition cases have failed to bring any result is that in most cases, the fugitives claim that the cases against them are politically motivated and the condition of Indian jails are pathetic. The high pendency rate in Indian courts, where a case dragging for 10 to 15 years is normal, and the inhuman condition of Indian jails, where under-trials are lodged, are the two major reasons why foreign courts usually side with the fugitive. Taking advantage of this, a number of businessmen have escaped from the country after committing major frauds. Apart from Mallya, former IPL chairman Lalit Modi is also living in Britain after fleeing the country amid charges of financial irregularities. Similarly, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi of Gitanjali Gems are on the run after defrauding PSBs worth more than two billion dollars.Recently, India succeeded in securing the extradition of British national Michel Christian, in the AgustaWestland case, from UAE. This raised hopes that others who are wanted in India but evading the law by being in offshore locations would be brought back to the country and forced to bear the brunt of legal compulsions. This has made some of the fugitive businessmen jittery and Mallya is one of them. Next in the line could be Lalit Modi, Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi. The UK court's decision to extradite Mallya to India is a big morale booster for investigating agencies who have been working tirelessly to secure the extradition. Now, this should work as a template for other cases of extradition stuck in foreign courts.