Vijay Mallya, 61, the beleaguered Indian businessman facing an extradition demand from the Indian government in a British court, will fight the attempt to drag him back to India not just on the issue of poor prison conditions in India, but on the alleged demerits of New Delhi’s argument.
Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines, now defunct, is said to be in default of bank loans to the tune of Rs 5,500 crore plus penalties and surcharges, making it reportedly a total debt of Rs 9,000 crore. He has, however, been charged of misdemeanour connected with only Rs 900 crore — accused of colluding with senior executives of IDBI Bank to obtain this facility. It is further alleged that he siphoned off a part of the money abroad for personal gain and, in effect, indulged in money laundering. He denies the charges.
It was reliably learned that Mallya will produce Barry Humphries, Paul Rex, Martin Lau, Lawrence Saez
and Alan Mitchel as expert witnesses on aviation, banking, legal, political and prisons, respectively.
Having, perhaps, gauged the state of play, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Department (ED) of the finance ministry have been continuously amending or adding to their chargesheets to counter the evidence Mallya is expected to present.
“We want to draw a line with the material that comes through,” Claire Montgomery, appearing for Mallya, argued. “Things have a habit of popping up,” Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot agreed. She reminded Aaron Watkins, the Crown Prosecution Service lawyer for the Indian government, she hadn’t received the Indian government’s “revised position statement”. The lawyer claimed it had been sent; but agreed to submit it once more.
In a sign of the shape of things to come, Mallya unveiled his big gun — Montgomery, a barrister described as “the most formidable member of the bar” and author of a book The Law of Extradition.
While it was known she had been briefed by the defendant — who still enjoys a one-third stake in United Breweries in India that produces Kingfisher beer — she had not appeared in court for him until now. In contrast, the lead lawyer for the Indian government, Mark Summers, was absent; although investigating officers of the CBI
pertaining to the case were present.
Mallya had been exempted from making a personal court appearance. Nonetheless, he showed up, sitting impassively near his lawyer. At the end of a short hearing, the magistrate asked him to present himself at the courthouse by 9.30 am on December 4. The hearing is scheduled to get underway half an hour later.
So, the stage is set for daily extradition hearings to commence. Eight days have been allocated for the proceedings. If necessary, a short hearing would take place on another day in January. A verdict, which can be appealed, can be expected later that month.
Mallya has been in London since March 2016. In April, he was briefly detained before being granted conditional bail. The Indian government’s request for his extradition is based on a 1992 treaty on the subject between Britain and India. However, no one has been sent back under this agreement against his will, other than an accused in the 2002 Gujarat riots case, who chose to return thinking he would be dealt with leniently.
Mallya was dressed in an immaculate, blue pin-stripe suit. He also sported his now-trademark designer beard. As he emerged out of the courthouse, he was surrounded by a media scrum. Asked why he wasn’t returning to India to “face the music” there, he curtly replied: “It’s none of your business.” Answering another question he said: “I have said all the allegations are baseless and fabricated.” Indeed, he repeatedly responded to queries by saying: “Please come to court and witness the hearing yourself.”