Thursday, November 30, 2023

Supreme Court adjourns hearing in SBI Bank fraud case involving fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya

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The Supreme Court on Thursday decided to go ahead with hearing against fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya in a contempt of court case related to non-disclosure of his assets, as well as the amount of USD 40 million (Rs 600 crore) that he had received from Diageo Plc.

On last hearing, the court had given last opportunity to the fugitive businessman to present his arguments against the contempt of court case, in which he was found guilty for disobeying the Court’s orders in not disclosing full particulars of assets in a case between SBI Bank and his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines.

A three-Judge Bench comprising Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, Justice Ravindra Bhat and Justice P.S. Narasimha had adjourned the matter for two weeks with a clear indication to Mallya to act in directions passed by the Court on November 30, 2021, failing which the matter shall be taken to logical conclusion. 

On November 30, 2021, the Court had opined that it was up to Mallya to appear in person or advance arguments through his Counsel.

“The matter has to see the light as it is getting adjourned from 2017, when he was found guilty of contempt. Only sentencing is pending for last four years,”

-the Court noted. 

The Bench had also appointed Senior Counsel Jaideep Gupta as Amicus Curiae to assist the Court in this matter. It had also given liberty to Mallya to present his arguments through his Counsel. 

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During the hearing today, Justice Lalit said, “We have found a person guilty of contempt and punishment has to be imposed. Going by normal logic contemnor has to be heard, from that stage he hasn’t appeared before the court.

Amicus Gupta replied,

“He doesn’t have to be physically present, it’s enough for him to appoint a counsel. He should be given one opportunity, it should come in the order, so that contemnor Vijay should know about the repercussions of violating the contempt of court order.”

Justice Ravindra Bhat replied that he has Counsel, but the Counsel says he wants to withdraw.

“He (Vijay Mallya) abstains himself from coming in proceedings. On next date of hearing, same thing will happen. We can proceed with the sentence in absentia,” suggested Justice Bhat. 

Justice Lalit said,

“In these situations, the courts are not powerless, we need assistance required. You are going away from the clutches of law. According to you, Mr Jaideep, Vijay was aware of pendency of matters, he could have made representation through the Counsel. He was given that opportunity. He chose not to take the options we gave it to him.”

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Justice Ravindra Bhat said,

“This cannot become a gateway for courts of first instance to adopt this course. We will have to say this is in extraordinary sense of matter, he has been found guilty, and has run.”

Amicus Gupta suggested that before proceeding with ex-parte, a notice be given to the contemnor that the court was proceeding with ex-parte as a general practice.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted as a court of first instance, this court is bound by criminal procedure. “But this court has inherent jurisdiction in contempt cases, your Lordships can do that, you have in fact  given opportunity and he has not taken it. It is not Government’s stand that something confidential is going on,” he added. 

India has been trying to extradite the Kingfisher boss from the United Kingdom for the last few years. The Court was hearing the contempt matter involving Mallya, accused in the bank loan default case of over Rs 9,000 crore involving his defunct Kingfisher Airlines.

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The court has been waiting for his personal appearance to hear and decide his punishment.

The Apex Court had earlier dismissed Mallya’s plea seeking review of its 2017 verdict which held him guilty of contempt for transferring $40 million to his children in violation of the court orders.

On the previous hearing, 30/11/2021, the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta presented the memorandum dated 30/11/2021, issued under the signature of Deputy Secretery (Extradition), CPV Division, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. According to which it was placed before the Apex Court that UK side has informed the Ministry that extradition of Vijay Mallya cannot take place until a separate legal issue, which is judicial and confidential in nature is resolved. 

After which, the Court had recorded that proceedings with regard to extradition have attained finality and Vijay Mallya has exhausted all avenues of appeal in the United Kingdom. However, it refers to some proceedings which are stated to be confidential, pending and no details are forthcoming. Thereafter, the Court has passed certain directions to finally decide the matter.

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