Raising Indian government hopes of bringing home fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya, a UK court Monday ordered his extradition to India to stand trial on the charges brought by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate. He has 14 days to appeal the order in a higher court.
The 62-year-old, owner of the defunct Kingfisher Airlines, is wanted for wilful default of over Rs 9,000 crore of loans from different Indian banks.
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court ordered the extradition, saying there was “no evidence which allowed me to find that if extradited, Dr Mallya was at real risk of suffering a flagrant denial of justice”.
Holding that Mallya’s conduct “would constitute the offences of making false representations to make a gain for himself, conspiracy to defraud and money laundering”, she said, “I am sending Dr Mallya’s case to the Home Secretary of State for a decision to be taken on whether to order his extradition”.
Mallya is entitled to make an application for permission to appeal to the High Court within 14 days of the date of the Chief Magistrate’s ruling. In case no appeal is made, he will be extradited within 28 days.
A team comprising officials of the CBI and ED, led by CBI Joint Director Sai Manohar, had left for London Sunday.
The development comes days after Christian Michel, alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case, was extradited to India by UAE authorities. Michel is currently in the custody of CBI.
“We welcome the decision of the court and hope to bring Dr Vijay Mallya back soon. CBI has its inherent strengths. We worked hard on this case. CBI was always strong on facts, and legally we were confident while pursuing the extradition process,” CBI spokesperson Abhishek Dayal said.
Making observations about the role of banks in the whole episode, the Chief Magistrate pointed to their “failure to abide by their own rules”.
“It is either a case that the various continuing failures were by design and with a motive (possibly financial) which is not clear from the evidence that has been put in front of me, or it is a case of a bank who were in the thrall of this glamorous, flashy, famous, bejewelled, bodyguarded, ostensibly billionaire playboy who charmed and cajoled these bankers into losing their common sense and persuading them to put their own rules and regulations to one side,” the court said.
It also noted how Mallya diverted loan funds to his “vanity projects” of Formula 1 racing team and a private jet. It listed an email in which he asks for US dollars 10 crore to be moved from his account to United Spirits Ltd (USL) since the Kingfisher Airlines loan is close to becoming an NPA and the banks may take some action.
The court rejected the defence arguments of possible rights abuse of Mallya in India’s jails and that Indian courts do political bidding.
Dismissing the defence argument that the supervising officer of the case, CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana, was corrupt — Asthana was recently divested of his responsibilities along with Director Alok Verma following a bitter battle between the two — the court said: “I find that there is no evidence that Mr Asthana has acted corruptly. I noted the Supreme Court cleared Mr Asthana of the allegations made against his integrity and there was no reliable or significant evidence produced by the defence expert, Professor Saez, which undermined that finding.”
“There is insufficient evidence for this court to find that he will not be tried by a competent and fair court. Any suggestion that CBI courts are too pliable when it comes to CBI cases is not borne out by reliable evidence… I do not accept that the courts in India are there to do what the politicians tell them to do… there is a prima facie case, that there is no evidence that the prosecution is politically motivated”.
The court also expressed satisfaction over assurances given by the Indian government about jail conditions, the medical facilities in jail and the protection to be provided to Mallya.
The former Kingfisher Airlines boss has been on bail since his arrest on an extradition warrant in April last year. The judge ruled that Mallya would remain on the same bail conditions.
Before the extradition order was delivered, Mallya told reporters outside the court that he had not “stolen” any money and was ready to return all the money. He also said that his plea to return the money as filed in a Karnataka court was not “bogus”.
He said his legal team will review the judgment and take proper steps thereafter.