The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) last week explained, according to a news agency, that the downgrade of the Look Out Circular (LOC) for Vijay Mallya — from his detention to merely being informed about his entry/exit — was an “error of judgment.”
But confidential correspondence accessed by The Indian Express shows that the agency, in writing, argued to the Mumbai Police that its first LOC was, in fact, an error.
It put on record that Mallya’s detention was “not required.”
In its first LOC dated October 16, 2015, the CBI filled out the LOC form checking the box “prevent subject from leaving India.”
The second LOC was dated November 24, 2015, the very night Mallya landed in Delhi. It had a covering letter sent to the Special Branch of the Mumbai Police. The box in this second LOC form that was ticked was: “inform originator of arrival/departure of subject.”
Four months later, Mallya left the country on March 2, 2016, and proceedings to extradite him from the UK are now on. On February 28, Mallya’s lenders SBI got legal advice to move the apex court to stop his exit but they did not act on it.
The crux of the controversy lies in an alert sounded by Immigration authorities activated through the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) to the CBI on the morning of November 23, 2015, that Mallya was landing at New Delhi’s international airport from a foreign destination on the night of November 24.
It was on November 24 itself that CBI shot off a lengthy letter to Mumbai Police (for onward instructions to the immigration authorities) along with the fresh LOC categorically stating that, “detention of the subject at this stage is not required by us. In case detention is required in future, it will be communicated separately. The LOC established in respect of the subject may also be amended accordingly.”
The letter, curiously, makes out that the agency was unaware of the system of alerts via the APIS and now that they had been made aware of it, there was no need for Vijay Mallya’s detention.
The letter was signed by then CBI’s SP in Mumbai, Harshita Attaluri, and is marked to Mumbai IPS officer Aswati Dorje.
The letter says: “While establishing the LOC, our request as to be informed about the arrival/departure of the subject from India and in the annexure enclosed with the LOC, the reference to detention of the subject was made under the impression that advance information about the arrival of the subject may not be available with immigration authorities and therefore, in case the accused checks in at the immigration post for arrival/departure, the information would be furnished to us only at that point. Therefore we had mentioned that the subject may be detained.”
Making out its case for taking the unprecedented step of downgrading the category of LOC within five weeks, the letter notes, “However, had it been known at that point that advance information is also available in your data-base/records, we would have phrased the annexure differently. We request you to inform the advance arrival/departure of the subject discreetly. Detention of the subject at this stage is not required by us…”
CBI officials including Attaluri and Joint Director A K Sharma (who Attaluri reported to) did not respond to calls or messages for comments from The Indian Express.
On September 13, PTI quoted the CBI as saying that their downgrade of the LOC was “an error of judgment” on their part. Two days later, the agency issued a statement saying that “the decision to change the LOC against Vijay Mallya was taken because at the time there wasn’t sufficient ground for the CBI to detain and arrest him.”