Close to eight years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with a vow to weed out corruption from the country, his government has faced charges of failing on the front many times from the opposition. Despite a carefully crafted narrative of a government that did not care for reputations, Modi’s government’s image took a beating when Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi fled India for banking frauds they had committed during the tenure of Manmohan Sing-led UPA government.
In December 2021, the parliament was informed that 33 accused in bank fraud cases registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) fled the country in the last five years.
All these years, it was the opposition that led the charge against the government for allowing the three fugitives to escape the country, even as the agencies worked on the nitty-gritty of international laws to extradite the accused. Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Mehul Choksi, who collectively owe Rs 22,000 crore to banks in India, are still at large. But the government has something to save its image finally.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said banks have recovered as much as Rs 13,109 crore from the sale of assets belonging to fugitive economic offenders Mallya, Modi, and Choksi.
But recovering money from the fugitives may not be enough, as the fight against corruption is not about recovering money, but punishing offenders.
The Directorate of Enforcement has sent extradition requests to various countries and filed applications under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 against defaulters fleeing Indian jurisdiction.
Despite coming close to getting the three accused extradited to India, the agencies have faced roadblocks at different levels in getting custody of the accused. In the run-up to the 2024 general elections, it would be interesting to see whether the government goes with the narrative of recovering money from Mallya, Modi and Choksi, or it gets them back in India as the trophy of the battle against corruption.
Here is the timeline of the three high profile cases of banking fraud:
The Fall of 'the King of Good Times'
1973: Vijay Mallya took over as the chairman of United Breweries Group, which is famously known for its beer ‘Kingfisher.’
2005: ‘The King of Good Times’ started Kingfisher airlines, with United Breweries Group as its promoter.
2008: Kingfisher bought a 26 per cent stake at the debt-ridden airline Air Deccan by paying Rs 550 crore.
March 2008: Amid a global recession and soaring oil prices, the debt of Kingfisher reached more than Rs 900 crore.
2009: Within a year, the debt of Kingfisher soared to Rs 7,000 crore.
2011: As Kingfisher’s losses reached more than its net worth, eleven bank accounts of the airline was closed for non-payment of the loan worth Rs 70 crore.
2012: Mallya guaranteed repayment of the loan worth Rs 5,900 crore of Kingfisher.
2012: Kingfisher airlines suspended its operations.
2013: Net worth of Kingfisher airlines fell to a negative of Rs 13,000 crore.
2014: United Bank recognised United Breweries Group as the defaulter.
2015: In October, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducted a raid on the properties associated with Mallya in relation to the Rs 900 crore loan provided to the airline by IDBI bank. In December of the same year, CBI questioned Mallya in the case.
March 2016: Mallya was in discussion with the banks to settle the debt. On March 9, the SBI-led consortium filed a complaint against Mallya with the debt recovery tribunal. The same day, Mallya fled India to the United Kingdom.
April 2016: Mallya’s offer regarding repayment of debt was rejected by the banks. The same month, the Ministry of External Affairs revoked Mallya’s passport, and the enforcement directorate (ED) issued a non-bailable warrant against Mallya.
2017: Mallya was arrested in the UK after India requested his extradition.
2018: Citing that Indian banks broke rules and colluded in order to lend to Mallya and Kingfisher airlines, the London court refused to overturn Indian Court’s order for freezing Mallya’s assets worldwide.
September 2018: Mallya approached the Karnataka High Court offering to sell his assets worth Rs 13,900 crore.
December 2018: Mallya offered to pay the entire principal amount to banks.
January 2019: Mallya became the first person to be declared a fugitive economic offender by a PMLA court in India.
February 2019: The then Home Secretary of the UK Sajid Javid approved the extradition of Mallya to India.
April 2020: The Royal Court of Justice in London quashed Mallya’s appeal against the central government’s extradition request.
January 2021: Mallya wrote to then UK Home Secretary Priti Patel for another route in order for him to be able to stay in the UK. The same month, the UK government told India that Mallya could not be extradited due to certain unresolved legal issues.
June 2021: PMLA court allowed the selling of Mallya’s properties worth Rs 5,646 crore to recover debts to the banks.
The Fall Of Diamantaire Nirav Modi
January 2018: Punjab and National Bank filed the first police complaint against Diamantaire Nirav Modi, his uncle Mehul Choksi and others accusing a fraud of Rs 2.81 trillion. Both Modi and Choksi fled the country.
February 2018: The CBI started an investigation into the scam. Two PNB employees were arrested in the case. The government seized the passports of Modi and Choksi for four weeks. A Mumbai magistrate court issued bailable order against Modi and Choksi.
June 2018: Interpol issues Red Corner Notice against Nirav Modi in relation to the money laundering case. ED seek Modi’s extradition order from a Mumbai Special Court.
August 2018: UK government flagged the presence of Modi in London, following this India send a request for Modi’s extradition. CBI also requested Interpol to detain Modi in London.
March 2019: British Newspaper ‘The Telegraph’ confronted Modi confirming his presence in the UK. The government of the UK send Modi’s extradition request to India to Westminster Court. Modi was presented to Westminster Court, which denied him bail. He was then sent to Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP). His second bail application was denied for the second time.
May & June 2019: Modi’s third and fourth bail applications got denied.
May 2020: The five-day extradition trial of Modi began in the UK. Indian government submitted documents as proof of his involvement in the scam.
February 2021: The Westminster Court ruled out that Modi can be extradited to India.
Mehul Choksi, PNB Scam and Antigua
1966: Choksi found Geetanjali Group, which is one of the largest branded jewellery retailers in India.
2017: Choksi took the citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda.
January 2018: Choksi fled to Antigua and Barbuda from India after he was accused of involvement in Rs 2 billion PNB Scam.
March 2019: The extradition process against Choksi began in Antigua.
July 2019: ED attached Choksi’s assets in India and abroad worth Rs 24.77 crore.
December 2019: CBI court refused to cancel the non-bailable warrant against Choksi.
February 2020: Sebi slapped Rs 5 crore on Geetanjali Gems for violating listing norms.
May 23, 2021: His employee registered a missing person complaint with the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda after he didn’t return home.
May 25, 2021: Choksi got arrested for illegally entering Dominica via boat. Antigua’s government said that he can be directly extradited from India since he made an “instrumental error” of leaving Antigua. His lawyer argued that he cannot be extradited to India since he is no longer a citizen of India.
May 27, 2021: Under Habeas Corpus, the Dominican government announced that he cannot move out until further orders.
June 2021: India sends a private jet to bring back Choksi. Dominican High Court denied bail to Choksi. The CBI in its supplementary charge sheet said that Choksi had siphoned off Rs 6,345 crore which he borrowed from PNB to pearl suppliers in Hong Kong. Choksi was remanded to stay in Dominican Prison.
July 2021: Dominican Court grants bail to Choksi. He travels back to Antigua seeking medical help.
February 2022: Centre told the apex court that Rs 18,000 crore has been recovered from Mallya, Modi and Choksi.