Investigative agencies seem to be on a an overdrive to get a tighter grip on wilful defaulter billionaire Vijay Mallya, who flew out of India on 2 March and is rumoured to be in his plush country home in London, a few days before lenders moved the apex court to restrain him from escaping from the country.
According to latest reports, the CBI is looking into about three lakh banking transactions, most of them made to foreign countries, related to over the Rs 7,000 crore bank loan default case involving Mallya. According to a report in The Times of India, the investigative agency has now brought under its ambit all the 17 banks that form the consortium of lenders. Earlier, it was only probing Mallya's Rs 900 crore loan default with IDBI Bank.
A PTI report, which said 6 lakh such transactions are under scanner, said the CBI is following substantive leads of money trail to four nations in the case. The official sources quoted in the report, however, refused to divulge the name of the countries as it might affect the probe.
Officials of the 17 banks which gave loan to Kingfisher Airlines (now defunct) and UB Group, promoted by Mallya, are also under the agency's scanner for their alleged involvement in the case, they said.
Interestingly, none of the banks has so far reported "fraud" to the CBI in this case despite being approached by the agency.
The CBI had in 2012 and 2014 approached IDBI Bank, which has allegedly sanctioned Rs 900 crore loan in violation of norms, to report the default. Similarly, Union Bank of India was also approached early this year by the CBI to report the alleged fraud. But both these banks, and 15 others, have not come forward with a formal complaint so far, the sources said.
The CBI had recently questioned former chief financial officers — A Raghunathan and Ravi Nedungadi — of the erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines and UB Group respectively.
While Raghunathan is a named accused in the CBI's case registered in October last year, Nedungadi had resigned recently from the post of CFO of the UB Group.
CBI had registered a case against the then UB Group Chairman Mallya, Kingfisher Airlines, Raghunathan, and unknown officials of IDBI Bank alleging that the Rs 900 crore loan sanctioned to the airline was in violation of norms.
The agency had alleged that Kingfisher Airlines had diverted a substantial chunk of the loans secured from public sector banks to tax havens for purposes not specified in loan applications.
According to a report in The Hindu, in IDBI Bank cases the charges pertians to "Section 409 (criminal breach of trust) read with Section 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and other provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act against unknown IDBI officials". The agency now plans to add cheating charge too, says the report.
The CBI will have to build a water tight case against the baron, who still has a net worth of about Rs 7,000 crore. This is because proof of money laundering is key to pinning him down.
Shriram Subramanian, founder of proxy advisory firm InGovern Research Services, says in a report in the Mint newspaper today that unless this charge is proven, Mallya is not a criminal.
“He can return to India and settle with the banks to the extent of his personal guarantees on the loans taken by Kingfisher Airlines," Subramanian has been quoted as saying in the report. If the money laundering charges are proven, it will be difficult for him to do this, he says.
The 17 banks whose loans have come under the scrutiny of CBI also include UCO bank, Punjab National Bank, State Bank of India, Vijaya Bank, Bank of Baroda, Corporation Bank, Bank of India, United Bank of India, State Bank of Mysore and Indian Overseas Bank.
The total default in repayment of loans by Kingfisher Airlines, which stopped its operations in October 2012, is over Rs 7,000 crore.
A consortium of banks led by SBI wants to liquidate Mallya's assets to recover the loans.