NEW DELHI/B’LURU/CHENNAI: The ongoing legal battle between liquor baron Vijay Mallya and banks is getting muddled, procedurally.
Though the consortium of banks, led by SBI, initiated measures to get back their monies aggregating `9,000 crore (including interest), the slow pace has just made the recovery process a great deal longer. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court was informed Mallya was no longer in the country, which then issued a notice seeking his response in two weeks. The next hearing is on March 30.
The banks rightly moved the apex court on Tuesday to prevent Mallya from leaving the country, but it was a tad too late. Mallya had dropped the biggest hint about his intention to be with his family in England 10 days ago, February 25, to be precise, when he stepped down as chairman, United Spirits Ltd, now part of Diageo. With just a stroke of a pen, he ended a year-long boardroom battle with Diageo in return for a $75-million ‘sweetheart deal’.
The banking consortium approached the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) in Bengaluru on March 2, the day Mallya was on his way out of India. The DRT took up the matter promptly and barred Mallya from touching his $75 million, but that too was a belated move. As per the Mallya-Diageo deal, $40 million was to be paid with immediate effect, i.e. February 25, and the rest in the next five years.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, representing the banking consortium, told the SC bench comprising justices Kurian Joseph and R F Nariman that Mallya has movable and immovable assets abroad, far exceeding his debt. He sought an order that Mallya appear in person before the court, with his passport in hand and disclose his assets on oath. But according to senior lawyers, it’s difficult to lay hands on his overseas assets. “If any wealth or property is in his name, and if it’s a property on which he has given a personal guarantee, then it depends on the agreement between the countries,” B C Thiruvengadam, senior counsel, told Express. “It’s a complicated case and not easy for the Indian government to get its hands on him or his wealth abroad, even if there’s a warrant from a local court. He will keep fighting in the local courts. Extradition will not be easy,” said Justice M F Saldanha, adding that UK courts, by far, were the most difficult to issue an order in favour of India.