New Delhi: As the United Kingdom High Court Monday dismissed fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s plea against extradition, India moved a step closer to bringing him back to the country.
Mallya, a former Rajya Sabha member who is accused of fraud and money laundering to the tune of Rs 9,000 crore, fled to the UK in 2016. The final decision on his extradition will now be taken by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in four weeks.
In case she upholds the court’s decision, it can be challenged by Mallya before the UK High Court, and subsequently the British Supreme Court.
The high court’s decision has spelt much cheer in the CBI team that led India’s case for Mallya’s extradition from the UK.
Former CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, who spearheaded the case during his stint in the agency, told ThePrint that the verdict was a moment of “vindication” for him.
Asthana, who headed the special investigation team (SIT) formed by the CBI to investigate the Mallya case in 2015 and represented the agency at the hearings in London until 2018, said he had been waiting for the decision “for long”.
“Since it was a professional investigation by us, we were not let down. I feel vindicated,” he said.
“The UK court has upheld my integrity as an investigator,” he said. “This is very satisfying especially when so many suspicions were raised about my uprightness,” he added, referring to a feud with former CBI director Alok Verma that saw the two most senior officers of the agency trade allegations of corruption.
The affair had culminated in both officers’ exit from the CBI. Asthana is currently posted as director in the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS)
How SIT aggressively pursued the case
Mallya, who is being probed by the CBI as well as the Enforcement Directorate (ED), is accused of defaulting on a Rs 9,000-crore loan that he availed from a consortium of 17 banks led by SBI. He is also accused of diverting a big chunk of this loan, taken for his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines, to buy property abroad.
When the CBI received a tipoff about the alleged loan default, a source in the agency said, it was initially believed to be a “business failure”.
However, the CBI formed an SIT under Asthana that prepared a chargesheet accusing Mallya of cheating, fraud and conspiracy.
The CBI registered an FIR in the matter on 29 July 2015. By June 2016, the agency had arrested several senior bank officers. In January 2017, the agency filed the chargesheet in a CBI court. This chargesheet formed the basis of the extradition, sources in the agency said.
“The chargesheet in such a complicated case was filed well within record time. Also, a proposal for extradition through the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was sent to the Indian High Commission in the UK, well within time,” a source from the CBI said.
“The CBI has been able to achieve this because the team carried out a quality investigation, strong paper work, and, moreover, constant persuasion,” the source added.
Asthana subsequently travelled to London for all the hearings in the case. According to the source, he made sure the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the principal public agency for conducting criminal prosecutions in England and Wales, was properly briefed on the case, prior to and during the trial.
“It was a long-drawn process. But we are very satisfied with the results,” Asthana said.
A major challenge in the case, according to Asthana, was to convince the home department of England. Another challenge was to convince the officials of the Crown Prosecution Service and satisfy all their requirements, and the third, to convince the court.
“In these cases, it is absolutely important to have strong paper work. There is no scope of error. Cases like these fall through the cracks if the investigation is not solid,” he said.
“A major challenge was to convince the UK authorities about our case against Mallya and make them realise how important it is for India, but through evidence and sharp arguments,” he added.
“And I must admit that Mark Summers, the British lawyer hired by India through the Crown Prosecution Service, did an excellent job of it,” he said.
Summers is a specialist in the areas of extradition and mutual assistance.
According to the CBI, Mallya gave false information to secure the Rs 9,000 crore loan to “cheat” the banks.
The ED has alleged that Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines “diverted” at least Rs 3,547 crore of the loan amount to amass “huge properties outside India”, including in the UK, US, and France.
Both the ED and the CBI have alleged that Mallya did not disclose his assets while executing a personal guarantee agreement with the consortium when the loans of his company, Kingfisher Airlines, were restructured in December 2010.
According to the ED, Mallya also allegedly diverted of Rs 3,432.4 crore through “over-invoicing” of lease rentals of aircraft between April 2008 and March 2012, Rs 45.42 crore for payments towards the rental lease of a corporate jet used by him, another Rs 50.9 crore to the Force India Formula One team that he controlled, and at least Rs 15.9 crore to Indian Premier League cricket team Royal Challengers Bangalore.
The ED has accused Kingfisher Airlines and Mallya of “concealment, possession, acquisition, and use of proceeds of crime”.
This report has been updated to correct the year until which Asthana represented the CBI during the extradition hearings in the UK