Indian industrialist, Vijay Mallya, 61, whose Kingfisher Airlines (KFA) collapsed and who allegedly owes various Indian banks around Rs 9,000 crore, was granted conditional bail by the Westminster Magistrates Court in central London on Tuesday, after he was produced there following an extradition request by India. The next hearing of the case will be on May 17.
Mallya appeared to make light of his earlier brief detention. “Usual Indian media hype. Extradition hearing in court started today as expected,” he tweeted.
However, London’s police headquarters posted on its website: “Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Extradition Unit have this morning, Tuesday (April 18) arrested a man on an extradition warrant.”
It went on to state: “Vijay Mallya, 61 (18/12/1955), was arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities in relation to accusations of fraud. He was arrested after attending a central London police station….”
The last time any Indian was extradited to India by virtue of an order by a British court and against his will was Manu Narang in 1977. He stole two pillars from a temple in India. This was, in fact, before the Extradition Treaty between India and the United Kingdom came into being in 1993.
Sarosh Zaiwalla of Zaiwalla & Co., a London-based law firm, said: “I doubt very much if the extradition plea will succeed.”
He explained: “The judge has to be satisfied Mallya gets a fair trial in India. His lawyer’s will argue he is being politically hounded and is a victim of a media trial. He might also point out other Indian businessmen owe much more money to Indian banks, but his client has been singled out for persecution.”
Zaiwalla was of the opinion that a “worldwide freezing order” on Mallya’s assets would have been more effective than the extradition route.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley personally took up the matter with his counterpart Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, when they met in London in February. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, also joined in the discussions.
Following that exchange, sources close to Jaitley said the difference between previous cases and this one was “there is a political will” on the part of the British government to meet India’s expectations. This was interpreted as May herself — anxious to woo India in an uncertain climate for Britain after Brexit — indicating a resolve to do so.
May as Home Secretary prior to becoming Prime Minister had shown an equal inclination to extradite Indian absconders, such as Iqbal Mirchi – an underworld don wanted for terrorism – and Ravi Shankaran – who was accused of stealing sensitive documents from the Indian Naval War Room. But she was thwarted by the courts in both instances. Mirchi thereafter passed away in 2013.
Mallya, who enjoys a right of residence in Britain, left India over 13 months ago. He has been living in the United Kingdom since, notwithstanding his passport being confiscated a year ago.
As a result of his company’s debt, he was designated a proclaimed offender. He is wanted in India for defaulting on loans. Despite several summons to appear before the Enforcement Department of the Union Finance Minister, he refused to present himself before it.
In January, an Indian court permitted his lenders to pursue diluting the exposure. A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court also issued a non-bailable warrant against him. Following this, the Indian High Commission in London handed over an extradition request to the British Foreign Office, saying India had a “legitimate” case and sending Mallya back would demonstrate British “sensitivity towards our concerns”.
Extradition has been sought on account of defaulting on IDBI Bank loan worth Rs 950 crore. IDBI Bank had sanctioned three loans of Rs 150 core, Rs 200 crore and Rs 750 crore between 2009 and 2010 to KFA.
In extradition cases, UK follows the dual criminality procedure, where an action is an offence in both countries. “The level of proof required in the case is very high,” said a government official. Since it is a judicial case, Mallya will have the option of appeal at various levels of judiciary.
“It is a good precedent. We want to shatter this myth that by crossing boundaries you are out of bounds. Mallya extradition will act as an important test case,” the official added.
The UK government refers the extradition request to the court after examining the worthiness of the case. In the Mallya case, the matter has been referred to the court, where Indian authorities will have to present the case for extradition of the liquor baron.
Extradition is resisted by offenders on grounds including biased judicial system, not getting a fair trial in India, politically motivated case, among others. Even if Mallya loses the case at the magistrate’s level, he will have two or three higher levels of the judiciary to appeal to. If he fails to win even at the Supreme Court, then the final determination will be a political one, made by the British Home Secretary, Amber Rudd.
Mallya, who lost his core liquor business, owns a Formula One motor racing team called Force India. He is also associated with the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise in the Twenty20 Indian Premier League.