Vijay Vittal Mallya is not giving up easily. Just when everyone thought he had lost his court battle in England and was to be deported soon to occupy a well-done-up cell in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail, Mallya has got a reprieve from a two-judge bench of the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Justices George Leggatt and Andrew Popplewell accepted that there was “substantial ground” to appeal against the earlier Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot’s order of extradition.
Mallya is wanted in India after a clutch of banks claimed that he failed to pay up Rs 9,000 crore loaned to his defunct Kingfisher Airlines and other entities.
Even with his back to the wall, it is hard to miss the devil-may-care tone.
“After all the mockery made of me I would respectfully ask those interested parties to focus on the Divisional Bench Judgement… allowing me to challenge the core of the false prima facie case filed against me by the CBI. Witch-hunt?” Mallya tweeted after the appeal court order on Tuesday.
After Mallya quietly slipped out of the country on March 2, 2016, with enforcement agencies looking the other way, he has unfortunately now become a poster boy for the government’s attempts to clean up fraud and black money in high places. He is also facing collateral damage from the government’s failure to bring back the millions in illegal deposits in Swiss banks it had promised in 2014.
The ‘Swiss bank’ question kept popping up before the April-May polls. So, getting a few celebrity ‘crooks’ like Mallya and Nirav Modi extradited was good optics. Is there a general campaign to get the ill-gotten money back into the system? No. Take the case of Jatin Mehta of Winsome Diamonds. He has been on the run since 2013, but has managed to elude the enforcement agencies quite skillfully.
He is now a respectable citizen of the Caribbean island of St Kitts, which has no extradition treaty with India. Mehta took huge loans against RBI-authorised stand-by letters of credit to import gold for turning them into jewellery for export. By mid-2013, 13 banks were owed Rs 6,800 crore, but Mehta was nowhere to be found.
A few days ago, after years of repayment defaults, a set of 10 big hitters have been declared ‘wilful defaulters’ by the State Bank (SBI), and they collectively owe the bank Rs 1,500 crore or more. Those named include Spanco Ltd and its directors Kapil Puri and wife Kavita Puri (Rs 347 crore), and Calyx Chemicals and its directors Smitesh Shah and his family (Rs 328 crore). These are no ‘celebrities’; how hard will the banks and enforcement agencies go after them?
Get the money back!
To Mallya’s credit, among all those on the run, he is the only one who has offered to pay back his dues. In his tweet after the recent London court order, he reiterated once again: “Despite the good court result for me today, I once again repeat my offer to pay back the Banks that lent money to Kingfisher Airlines in full. Please take the money…”
Mallya and United Breweries Group first made a concrete offer before the Karnataka High Court on June 22, 2018, setting out available assets of approximately Rs 13,900 crore for settlement. The plea was to allow the sale of assets under judicial supervision and repay creditors, including the banks.
Initially, the banks rejected his offer. Thereafter, on January 4 this year, SBI’s stand softened, and it filed a memo that it was willing to consider the offer, provided its dues were taken up on priority. The banks have also disputed the offer for a court-supervised sale of assets, preferring instead the supervision of the Debt Recovery Tribunal.
All of the above are not to argue that Mallya is innocent. There is prima facie evidence of possible fraud and diversion of loans. These are crimes for which charge sheets have been filed and Mallya should stand trial.
However, there are the civil claims too. The Centre should do whatever it can to recover the money owed to the banks. It is after all our money. The elections are over. In fact, if the Modi government manages to get back a large part of what is due from Mallya, it will win itself accolades and set new precedents.