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Vijay Mallya’s arrest is fine, but he can confuse UK judges and get away if India isn’t watchful

The wisdom of India’s leftists knows no limits. They see and perceive things common people can’t. No wonder they call themselves the protectors of common men and the saviors of the downtrodden.

So it was in tune with their unmatched ingenuity that they coughed up a hair-raising theory when Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonetised high-value currency in November 2016. They accused Modi of trying to mop up common man’s money and pump it into the banks that had been robbed of cash by high-flying loan defaulters like Vijay Mallya.

Left geniuses take to Twitter, but common people take to Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). The verdict in the assembly elections that voters delivered in March was that Modi was punishing the rich and helping the poor. Modi’s pro-poor image is at an all-time high now.

So it is in tune with the common man’s perception of Modi that he must crack down on Vijay Mallya, a process his government has begun with an earnestness that was seen rare in the previous governments. It must be said to the credit of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that he did a good job of persuading the British authorities to launch extradition proceedings against Mallya who fled to London in March last year after defaulting banks to the tune of Rs 9,000 crore.

Mallya’s arrest in London on Tuesday and his release on bail are fine. But what the common man  wants to see is the return of the money that he owes the government banks which, by extension, mean the tax-payers.

VIjay Mallya. Reuters

VIjay Mallya. Reuters

This process no longer depends on the whims of either the Indian or the British government. It’s before a London court. What Modi and Jaitley must ensure is that the case in London doesn’t get derailed. There are many ways in which it can.

As Patrick Barkham of The Guardian explains: “Extradition from Britain is reputed to be difficult to secure ... often simply because of the complex judicial procedure an extradition must go through.”

As for now, India can only take comfort from the fact that the UK government has “certified” its request for extraditing Mallya and that a district court in London is convinced that prima facie a crime has been committed that might call for extradition under the 1993 Extradition Treaty between the two countries.

On 17 May, the judge will conduct a detailed hearing, during which he needs to be convinced that the crime Mallya committed in India is considered a crime in the UK as well and, equally importantly, extraditing him would not breach his “human rights”.

Since the UK courts would not accept a company’s loans as the responsibility of the individual who owns the company, India needs to convince the judge that a large part of the loans Mallya had taken was laundered for purposes other than what it was intended for. This won’t be difficult.

Mallya could also argue that he had offered to repay nearly Rs 7,000 crore of his outstanding loans but the banks had been unwilling to accept that offer. India needs to prove that Mallya had been bluffing, and that may be a bit difficult.

After this, the legal process would—if Mallya gets an extradition order and he chooses to appeal, which he will, of course—involve rulings by the Secretary of State, the High Court and the Supreme Court.

At any stage, especially when the matter reaches the Secretary of State, proof of “political motivation” or even a mere suspicion of it on the part of the Indian government could jeopardise the extradition proceedings.

There lies a danger.

Will Mallya raise a political bogey before the UK court?

Beginning with the district judge who will hear him on 17 May, Mallya can talk about how he became a member of India’s Rajya Sabha twice with the help of many parties including the BJP whose government at the centre now wants him extradited with ulterior motives. In case he chooses to reveal details of his largesse to the various parties based in Karnataka, he would only confound the matters for the prosecutors. The British law is touchy about words like ‘unjust’ and ‘oppressive’.

Though India inherited its political and judicial systems from Britain, ignorance in that country of how India works can come in handy for Mallya and his smart lawyers. When Malayalam cine actor and nominated MP Suresh Gopi met the Queen in Buckingham Palace in February this year, she asked him whether he was a member of the “Senate”.

Mallya indeed helped—and was helped by—many parties. Both the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) of Deve Gowda facilitated his entry into the Rajya Sabha in 2002. When he entered the Upper House a second time in 2010, it was with the support from JD (S) and BJP. All the parties with a base in Karnataka, where the liquor and aviation baron had political ambitions, benefitted from his generosity, and they returned the munificence to him in good measure.

But there is no doubt that, though Mallya got his sundry licenses for his proposed Kingfisher Airlines when BJP’s Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, it was during the regime of the Congress-led UPA that banks bent backwards to patronise the tycoon. The airline was launched in 2005 and it went bust in 2013.

Both Manmohan Singh and the civil aviation ministers of that period—Praful Patel, Vayalar Ravi and Ajit Singh—have a lot to answer. Forgetting that it was the UPA dispensation that allowed Mallya to commit the financial crimes, the Congress and the Left intellectuals are now accusing the BJP of letting Mallya escape.

In case Mallya raises the political bogey, the government must effectively counter it, though it might amount to washing Indian dirty linen on British soil.

The blame game that goes on on TV channels no longer interests the common man and would interest the British courts even less. All that matters now is that Modi has taken a serious step to get Mallya extradited, and his government must do everything it can to take the case to its logical conclusion in Britain. The government must not only get him back to India, it must also get back from him every rupee he owes banks.

(The author tweets @sprasadindia)

Updated Date: Apr 19, 2017 15:57 PM

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