A UK High Court judge, on 5 July 2018, issued an enforcement (seizure) order in favour of a consortium of 13 Indian banks, seeking to recover funds owed to them by fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya. The Kingfisher Airlines founder is fighting extradition to India on fraud and money laundering charges worth nearly Rs 9,000 crore.
The order granted permission to the UK High Court Enforcement Officer to enter the tycoon’s properties in Hertfordshire, near London. For some reason, the court added that the order need not be construed as a mandatory order to launch coercive proceedings but only a possible course of action if considered appropriate by the enforcing agencies in the UK.
The seizure permission obviously includes permission to seize the residential property he is living in. Robbed of his home away from home, he might well be rendered homeless unless his sympathisers in the UK deem it fit to harbour him.
But that at best would be a short-term reprieve, with the extradition court possibly having no option but to order his handing over to the Indian government when it resumes hearing a few days hence i.e. on 31 July 2018, now that his crimes against Indian banks are fairly well established.
That Arthur Road prison in Mumbai is not a clean or good place to live in is a weak alibi proffered by his defence team against his extradition. Portugal handed over Abu Salem to India after taking an undertaking that he would not be sent to the gallows as Portugal had long ago abolished the death penalty. The UK magistrate might at best order, for Mallya, a mosquito-free room with a clean toilet at Arthur Road jail. Be that as it may.
Unlike Lalit Modi of IPL infamy, both Mallya and billionaire diamantaire Nirav Modi, the latter-day fugitives, have a rich treasure trove in India that comes handy for confiscation under the newly crafted fugitive economic offences law.
And if and when confiscated, they may come fairly close to settling the claims of banks. But that would not meet the ends of justice. The Modi government has been pilloried for letting fugitives flee under its very nose. Its counter that it was the UPA government that sanctioned and gave them loans in the first place, though a good repartee, doesn’t go down well with the electorate which is baying for their blood.
While the government’s job to be sure is not to pander to the lynch mob, a fair trial in Indian courts ending in a conviction and a place in an Indian prison alone meets the ends of justice for a crime against India.
It is said that in financial crimes, a disgorgement order is the best form of justice. But in addition, criminals must also be incarcerated so that they don't repeat their crimes. In other words, disgorgement and jail term should go hand-in-hand for financial crimes.
Politician Lalu Yadav, convicted in the five fodder scam cases thus far, has gotten away without a disgorgement order though the long and short of the charges against him is that he defrauded the exchequer to the tune of Rs 900 crore. This is a sad commentary on our punishment regime. That disgorgement might take place in the ongoing benami properties cases is cold comfort at best and delayed justice at worst. Be that as it may again.
Reverting back to Mallya, confiscation so as to recover the dues to banks alone is not sufficient. His trial in India followed by a prison term for him in an Indian jail alone will meet the ends of justice. That cannot be dismissed off as pining for the ancient Grecian system of amphitheatre justice.
Lalu has been jailed but not made to disgorge. Mallya and Modi must not only disgorge but also do long penance in Indian jails.
(The author is a senior columnist and tweets @smurlidharan)
Updated Date: Jul 06, 2018 13:36 PM