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Though the extradition of this liquor baron from the UK will be easier said than done, it will set a good precedent for those who cross international borders to escape the consequences of their crimes

  ~By Sajeda Momin in London

Vijay Mallya, the absconding industrialist who owes a whopping Rs 9,000 crore in defaulted loans to Indian banks, was arrested by the Scotland Yard and released on bail within three hours. The Westminster Magistrates’ Court in central London took only 10 minutes to hear the case and granted him conditional bail on a surety bond of  GBP 6,50,000 (Rs 5.3 crore)—a pittance considering Mallya’s wealth and assets in the UK alone.

Leaving the Magistrates’ Court looking relaxed in a white open-necked shirt, black trousers and a blue blazer, Mallya tweeted: “Usual Indian media hype. Extradition hearing in court started today as expected.”

“Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Extradition Unit have this morning, (Tuesday, April 18) arrested a man on an extradition warrant. Vijay Mallya, 61 (18/12/1955), was arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities in relation to accusations of fraud,” Scotland Yard said in a statement. Mallya had found out about the warrant and gone to a central London police station where he was arrested.

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The liquor baron had fled to Britain in March 2016 after Indian banks began to chase him to repay the thousands of crores he owed them after the collapse of his Kingfisher airline. Claiming inability to service the debts, the self-styled King of Good Times had even asked the government to bail him out when Kingfisher was grounded after showing repeated losses for five years. Probably getting wind that he may be arrested in India, the former playboy had decamped to the UK. 

Mallya has been living in Britain ever since and continues to maintain his millionaire lifestyle, partying mostly with friends from India and elite NRIs. He resides either at his London home in Baker Street a few doors away from the famous waxwork museum, Madame Tussauds, or at his “secret mansion” in Tewin village in Hertfordshire. His home in this village is the largest bungalow there and he is a regular at the village pub, the White Horse, where he mixes with local English villagers.

Vijay Mallya, who owes Rs 9,000 crore to Indian banks, was arrested by Scotland Yard and granted bail on a surety bond of Rs 5.3 crore.

Mallya and his son are always seen at races at Silverstone as he still owns Force India, a Formula One racing team. Else, he is able to maintain a pretty anonymous life in the UK where the paparazzi has even wealthier A-listers from around the world to chase.

Mallya possessed a right of abode visa for Britain in his Indian passport, which was revoked by India in April last year. India tried to get him deported but UK officials said long-term right to residence here did not depend on his possession of a valid passport.

According to the terms of his bail, the former chairman of United Breweries is not allowed to leave or should attempt to leave the UK. He is expected to not try and obtain any other international travel papers either or be in possession of them. His revoked Indian passport will remain with the Scotland Yard.

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The flamboyant tycoon has been designated a proclaimed offender and is among the most wanted in India. Despite several summons to appear before the Enforcement Department, Mallya refused to present himself. It was only after a CBI court issued a non-bailable warrant against him in January this year that 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 was a way of showing “sensitivity towards our concerns”.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley took up the extradition of Mallya with his UK counterpart Philip Hammond. Photo: PIB
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley took up the extradition of Mallya with his UK counterpart Philip Hammond. Photo: PIB

Extradition has been sought as he defaulted on IDBI Bank loans worth Rs 950 crore. Mallya has denied fleeing his debts and described his decision to live in the UK as “forced exile”.

The Extradition Treaty between India and the UK came into being in 1993 but India’s track record of bringing absconders back is pretty poor. Lalit Modi, former IPL chairman, Ravi Shankaran, accused of stealing sensitive documents from the Indian Naval War Room and musician Nadeem accused in the Gulshan Kumar murder case are just a few of the most wanted that India would like extradited from the UK.

The only person to have been extradited by the UK to India in the last 24 years is Samirbhai Vinubhai Patel, wanted for burning alive 23 Muslims in Ode village during the Gujarat riots of 2002. Patel was sent back in October 2016 and is currently in a jail in Anand. Unlike all the other absconders, Patel had not fought his extradition. In fact, Patel’s consent had helped the British government take a decision in the case. 

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“I doubt very much if Mallya’s extradition plea will succeed,” says Sarosh Zaiwalla of Zaiwalla and Co., the first Indian to start a law firm in London as far back as 1982. Zaiwalla had won the Bofors libel case for the Bachchan brothers in 1990 and had famously sacked former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for preparing a bad case when he worked for Zaiwalla as a young barrister. “The judge has to be satisfied Mallya will get a fair trial in India. His lawyer will argue that he is being politically hounded and is a victim of a media trial. He might also point out that other businessmen owe much more money to Indian banks, but his client has been singled out for persecution,” said Zaiwalla about Mallya’s possible line of defense.

Extradition cases in the UK follow the dual criminality procedure, where an action is an offence in both countries. It is often resisted by offenders on the grounds that there is a biased judicial system back home, they would not get a fair trial, it is a politically motivated case, etc.

Extradition cases in the UK follow the dual criminality procedure, where an action is an offence in both countries. It is often resisted by offenders on the grounds that there is a biased judicial system back home, they would not get a fair trial, it is a politically motivated case, etc.

Even at the magistrate’s level, this could be a long-drawn-out battle lasting anything between 18 months to two years. If Mallya loses here, he still has two or three higher levels of the judiciary to appeal. If he fails to win even at the topmost Supreme Court, then he can appeal to the British home secretary who would make the final determination, which would be a political one.

“The level of proof required here in the case is very high,” admitted an Indian official. “However it is a good precedent to set. We want to shatter the myth that by crossing international boundaries, you are out of bounds. Mallya’s extradition will act as an important test case,” the official said.

The Modi government and particularly Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have been keen to get Mallya’s extradition as he was seen to be close to the former UPA government. Jaitley personally took up the matter with his counterpart, Philip Hammond, when they met in London in February. Some analysts feel that Britain is anxious to woo India in the uncertain post-Brexit climate and therefore there is a “political will” on the part of the British government to meet India’s expectations. 

The next hearing for the case has been set for May 17 when a senior magistrate will start the proceedings and Indian authorities will have to present the case for Mallya’s extradition.

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