A court in London ruled on December 10 that Vijay Mallya can be extradited to face charges in India. However, it may be a while before he actually lands in India to face trial for wilful default of a Rs 9,000-crore loan and allied charges. The court sent Mallya’s file to the UK Home Office, which will decide if the extradition will take place. The process is expected to take around eight weeks, during which time both Mallya and the Indian government could make representations. “It is possible that Mallya will press for political asylum in the UK at this time. That is currently the first way out. He will have to move while the magistrate’s order is being studied by the UK Home Office,” a top official involved in the case tells Outlook.
The second way out is that Mallya’s lawyers can appeal to the High Court of Justice in England, and during that time, the extradition order will be stayed. The hearing could be done by August or September 2019. Any subsequent appeal by Mallya or the Indian government to the UK Supreme Court will have to be approved by the High Court judge who gives the ruling. That leaves a slim chance for the repatriation to take place before next year’s Lok Sabha elections. Yet, it puts the government in a position to negotiate in case of a settlement, which Mallya has been trying to work out.
There is no denying that Mallya’s repatriation is already part of the BJP’s election campaign, especially as the party drew flak for the escape of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi after similar offences. Following the judgment, BJP national president Amit Shah tweeted, “Vijay Mallya’s extradition is a very significant development in India’s fight against corruption. The credit for this goes entirely to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ensured that the agencies were unrelenting in their pursuit of the man who had bled Indian banks and fled.”
Mallya had been under intense media scrutiny since his company, Kingfisher Airlines, defaulted on loans from several (mostly public sector) banks. Loan restructuring failed and the debt was eventually written off, while Kingfisher was declared a wilful defaulter. Despite a lookout notice, diluted by the CBI for want of enough evidence to arrest Mallya, the businessman would enter India multiple times until he left in March 2016; he has not been back since. In January 2017, the CBI filed a chargesheet while the government revoked his passport and sent an extradition request to the UK. Mallya was placed under arrest in London in April 2017 to face extradition proceedings. A court granted him bail for security of £6,50,000 (around Rs 6 crore), and he was banned from leaving the country.
In the recent extradition judgment, the court found: “There is clear evidence of dispersal and misapplication of the loan funds and I find a prima facie case that Dr Mallya was involved in a conspiracy to launder money.” The clincher appears to have been the special jail conditions created for the businessman, both pre-trial and post-trial in case of a conviction. He would be held at a VIP block in Mumbai’s Arthur Road prison, the conditions of which seem to have satisfied the judge after several modifications were made by the prison authorities.
In the meantime, Mallya has made an offer to settle dues through an offer he says he made during civil proceedings before the Karnataka High Court. The government has not replied to the offer, but there might be a negotiation now that the extradition judgment has given it an upper hand. Another factor is a new law to confiscate the property of fugitive offenders. In such an event, the confiscation and liquidation of Mallya’s assets in India would far outweigh the dues of his companies. And there is not even a hint that the government is in any mood to settle; any settlement would include bringing Mallya back to the country to first face charges. In an election year, it remains to be seen if it will be recovery of the cash or a pound of flesh that satisfies the charges.
- The Home Office will take around eight weeks to decide on extradition, during which time Mallya could apply for asylum.
- Mallya could appeal to the High Court. With the extradition stayed, the appeal could take until August or September.
- Mallya or the Indian government could appeal to the Supreme Court after a High Court judgment, if approved by the judge.