The defence team of Vijay Mallya, who is fighting a case regarding his extradition to India to face the trial on fraud and money laundering charges, on Wednesday branded the evidence presented by the Indian government during the hearing at a London court as “utterly unfounded”. The liquor tycoon arrived at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London when the judge began hearing the closing submissions in his extradition case.
The 62-year-old former Kingfisher Airline boss’ defence team, led by Clare Montgomery, opened the day by branding the evidence presented by the government of India in the case as “utterly unfounded”. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, countered this with arguments that Mallya had intended “from the outset” never to repay the loans he sought for his struggling airline and misrepresented its profitability.
“The government of India case that there was some secret pocket of knowledge about losses within Kingfisher Airlines (KFA) which were not revealed to the banks is utterly unfounded,” said Montgomery. “That this was a carefully thought out dishonest strategy knowing KFA was bound to fail is just nonsense. It was a financial disaster, not as result of dishonesty but the result of a failing airline failing to recover,” she said, reiterating her earlier submissions that KFA was the victim of a wider financial crisis that hit the aviation industry.
She dismissed the CPS argument that there was “stark disjoint between what Mallya knew and what the banks knew” and also repeatedly accused the Indian authorities of leaving documents “out of the bundle” that prove that “KFA was the victim of the economic climate” and not any deliberate fault. Mallya’s defence team also rubbished the video of Barrack 12 at Arthur Road Jail, where the businessman is to be held on being extradited to India, as having been freshly painted to give the perception of brightness that did not exist.
The video, submitted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Judge Emma Arbuthnot’s direction at the last hearing, was not played in open court as the judge said she had already reviewed it three times. “The video clearly shows the gloom that settles on this building, which is encased in what is effectively a steel oven,” Montgomery said, as part of her arguments in favour of a court-led independent inspection of the jail cell to ensure it meets the UK’s human rights obligations.
“It is impossible to be satisfied about humane lighting and ventilation,” she said, adding that it had been clearly tidied up for the purposes of the video as it did not match up with the photographs previously provided by the Indian authorities. The judge, however, made it clear to the CPS that she did not require any further information in reference to the prison conditions awaiting Mallya in India.
As part of her closing submissions, Mallya’s defence team effectively undertook a recap of the entire defence case, also repeating its claim that the case brought against the businessman was politically motivated. It was alleged that the CBI had been “forced to file charges” and once again referred to a newspaper report against CBI chief Rakesh Asthana, which had claimed that he influenced the heads of the state-run banks and threatened them with reprisals if action was not taken against Mallya.
“Mr Asthana has been solemnly sitting in court. If this were fake news, it could have been dealt with,” Montgomery said. The ongoing day-long hearing, which is expected to lead to a timeline for a ruling in the case, will continue to hear the closing submissions by the CPS, which will focus on highlighting that the judge should rule in favour of extradition based on the “weight of the evidence”.
Earlier, Mallya responded to the swarm of reporters gathered outside the court in his characteristic manner, saying the “courts will decide”. “As far as I am concerned, I have made a comprehensive settlement offer before the Karnataka High Court. I hope the honourable judges will consider it favourably; everybody gets paid off and I guess that’s the primary objective,” said Mallya, who has been on bail on an extradition warrant since his arrest in April last year and is fighting extradition to India on charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around Rs 9,000 crores.
The extradition trial, which opened at the London court on December 4 last year, is aimed at laying out a prima facie case of fraud against Mallya. It also seeks to prove there are no “bars to extradition” and that the tycoon is assured a fair trial in India over his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines’ alleged default of over Rs 9,000 crores in loans from a consortium of Indian banks. The CPS has argued that the evidence they have presented establishes “dishonesty” on the part of the businessman and that there are no bars to him being extradited from the UK to face Indian courts.
Mallya’s defence team has deposed a series of expert witnesses to claim he had no “fraudulent” intentions and that he is unlikely to get a fair trial in India.