It is good news
that Vijay Mallya, who is currently in London in spite of having non-bailable warrants issued against him in India, is now subject to extradition proceedings in the United Kingdom. The Narendra Modi-led government deserves credit for having moved forward with the legal process under an extradition treaty that was signed between the UK and India over 25 years ago. After a warrant was sent to London earlier this year, the UK home secretary “certified” it in late March and sent it to the Westminster magistrates’ court for action. This week, the court declared that Mr Mallya had a case to answer, and he was arrested and then released on bail, as is usual in these matters. Going forward, the case for extradition will have to be proved in court, survive appeals, and then finally be assented to by the home secretary.
It is clear that this is only the beginning of a long and arduous process. In fact, India has had meagre success in such cases. The only real success was last year, when one of the accused in the Gujarat riots
of 2002 was successfully extradited back to India, but the accused in that case did not contest the extradition. No contested extradition has so far taken place under the treaty. This may be because the quality of the legal spadework put in by the Indian government has not stood up to examination by British courts and also because the Indian government has failed to convince its counterpart that legal requirements for extradition in that country, such as trials being free of media influence and detention being humane, will be met in those particular cases. It should be clear that proceedings will not be straightforward in such a high-profile case as Mr Mallya’s, either. Mr Mallya can use notions such as him being made a political victim or being given an unfair treatment by the public sphere in India as defensible reasons for not being extradited, which will constrain the procedural freedom of British bureaucrats to give in to Indian imploring. The government will have to work hard to ensure that its counterparts in Whitehall have no room to claim that a trial by media is taking place, and so deny extradition.
The actual legal effort will not be easy, either. The government did right to focus on issues such as fraud in its initial notice regarding Mr Mallya since these issues are clearly defined and have similar meanings and penalties across the two criminal codes. It should keep its side of the legal proceedings at this pitch. Mr Mallya is certainly going to argue that he is accused of an offence that is of a civil nature, not requiring extended imprisonment, and as such out of the purview of the India-UK extradition treaty.
He could further argue that criminal charges have been added for political reasons. This will be a hard case to answer. The Indian government will have to demonstrate that a criminal act, namely fraud and conspiracy, took place. It has made a good start, but it must persist in the effort to return Mr Mallya to Indian justice.