The UK High Court on Wednesday concluded that liquor baron Vijay Mallya, wanted in India to face charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around Rs 9,000 crore, can be regarded as a “fugitive from justice”. This comes a day after he lost a lawsuit filed by 13 Indian banks in the UK High Court seeking to collect more than $ 1.55 billion from him.
Judge Andrew Henshaw, who upheld the worldwide freeze order and ruled in favour of 13 Indian state-owned banks, took note of the fact that the 62-year-old businessman is contesting his extradition to India relating to “alleged financial misconduct”.
“In all these circumstances, and even taking account of the fact that Dr Mallya is contesting the alleged grounds for extradition, there are grounds for regarding Dr Mallya as a fugitive from justice,” the judge said as part of his ruling.
The court was unconvinced by Mallya’s claim that he has been a non-resident Indian (NRI) since 1988 and has lived in England since 1992, a country where he has indefinite leave to remain (ILR). “The evidence indicates that prior to March 2016 Dr Mallya travelled fairly regularly between India and England for business and political reasons. Most of his business interests were in or closely connected with India, most notably United Breweries Group and Kingfisher Airlines…Whilst Dr Mallya has indefinite leave to stay in the UK, he is said to be a non-resident taxpayer,” the court observed.
The judge also concluded that the businessman had been in “clear breach” of a Karnataka court’s order when he disposed of assets like a historic sword of Tipu Sultan acquired at an auction in 2003. “The sword of Tipu Sultan is an item of historic importance which Dr Mallya bought at an auction in 2003 for the equivalent of GBP 188,400 and states that he gave away in 2016 as his family members considered that it was bringing him bad luck,” Judge Henshaw notes in his judgment.
“Dr Mallya declined to state in correspondence to whom the sword was given. Dr Mallya was unable to put forward any basis for contending that the disposal was not in breach of the Karnataka High Court’s interim injunction, and accepted that it occurred after the Supreme Court had made clear that the injunction covered subsequently acquired assets… It does, though, appear to me to have been in clear breach of the Karnataka court’s order,” he adds.
The judge, however, was less certain that luxury cars and yachts had been undeclared or disposed of by Mallya as claimed by the legal team representing the 13 Indian banks – State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, Corporation bank, Federal Bank Ltd, IDBI Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Jammu &a Kashmir Bank, Punjab & Sind Bank, Punjab National Bank, State Bank of Mysore, UCO Bank, United Bank of India and JM Financial Asset Reconstruction Co. Pvt Ltd.
The judge noted: “The Claimants [Indian banks] say there are numerous other assets which have been linked to Dr Mallya in various sources on the internet, but which he denies that he owns. These comprise three yachts, numerous cars and the Mabula Game Reserve in South Africa. “The registered/asserted owners are offshore companies and/or trusts. Since these matters are unverified, I do not consider I can take account of them.”
Mallya’s purchase of a Ferrari 246 GTS with an estimated value of 480,000 pounds was also questioned by the Indian banks. The UK court concluded that it may be the case that the payment of the deposit on the Ferrari was in breach of the Karnataka High Court’s interim injunction. “However, this point was not the subject of any detailed argument before me and, overall, I do not consider that the matters relating to the Ferrari carry matters any further on this application,” the judge concluded.
(With PTI inputs)