Fugitive billionaire Vijay Mallya should be extradited from the UK to India to face fraud charges, resulting from the collapse of his defunct Kingfisher Airlines (KFA), a London court ruled on Monday. There is, however, likely to be an indefinite delay in the final resolution regarding Mallya’s deportation or otherwise to India, despite the UK court ordering his extradition 20 months since he was first produced there following India’s application and a hearing of a trial spread over 53 weeks.
In a severe indictment of India’s leading liquor baron, the chief magistrate of the Westminster court Emma Arbuthnot described him as a “glamorous, flashy, famous, bodyguarded... playboy” who had “charmed and cajoled” Indian bank executives into furnishing KFA with facilities. However, in telling final remarks addressed to Mallya — who was asked to stand up — Arbuthnot told him, “You have a long process in front of you.”
She began delivery of a summary of her 74-page judgment by curtly saying, “I am ordering extradition.” However, she immediately clarified she was in actual fact “referring (the matter) to the Secretary of State (in this case Home Secretary Sajid Javid).” The ultimate decision on whether or not to extradite a person from Britain rests with the Home Secretary in office.
Mallya now has 14 days to appeal against the order. This he most certainly will. For the moment he told media: “My legal team will review the judgment in detail and consider various options and then I will decide going forward.”
Normally it takes six months for an appeal to be heard by the Royal Courts of Justice or the High Court of England and Wales. A further appeal from either party would mean consideration by the Supreme Court. If the UK remains within the ambit of the European Court of Justice up to the end of 2020 — which is not ruled out even if Brexit takes place by March — Mallya would have one more opportunity at arguing against his extradition.
Notwithstanding the fact that the decision came at a preliminary level of the British judiciary and Indian government and its Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) still have a long battle ahead of them to put Mallya on a plane to India — it was a landmark result and a moral victory for Indian authorities.
Only once since an extradition treaty came into force between India and Britain in 1993 has anyone been extradited to India; and that was when a man, Samirbhai Patel, wanted for alleged crimes in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots voluntarily preferred not to resist a magistrates’ court’s order and return to India in 2016 in the expectation that a combination of Bharatiya Janata Party governments in Gujarat and at the Centre will be lenient towards him.
The hero for India was Mark Summers, a Queen’s Counsel or a senior advocate, appointed by the British Crown Prosecution Service, who fought the case for the Indian government. Summers was initially handed a clumsy and confused brief, so much so that diplomats at the Indian High Commission in London had to burn midnight oil to polish up and refine it before submission to court. Regardless of such odds and confronted by a formidable defence lawyer in Clare Montgomery, Summers presented his case calmly, factually and with precision. This won him the day.
Summers’ task was only to establish before the court that there was a prima facie case against Mallya, not to prove he is guilty of the charges or claims made against him by the CBI or ED. Arbuthnot was persuaded the embattled entrepreneur, who finds himself in a quagmire because of the failure of his KFA, has “a prima facie case to answer” in India. Indian officials attending the pronouncement by her congratulated each other and celebrated in the courtroom as soon as she concluded reading the abridged version of her judgment.
Arbuthnot decreed Mallya had made “misrepresentations” to Indian banks in respect of the prospects of KFA making profits, in “meeting short-term challenges”, the value of the Kingfisher brand and utilised loans given to the airline in an unauthorised manner. She also felt he had laundered the $40 million given to him by Diageo as compensation for his quitting United Spirits by crediting this to his children.
She gave a clean chit to the controversial and now suspended Special Director of the CBI, Rakesh Asthana, who was in-charge of investigating the case. In this instance, she said, “there is no evidence Asthana acted corruptly”. She also asserted she did not think “judges in India are corrupt”.
Furthermore, she accepted assurances from the Indian side that treatment in keeping with international standards will apply if and when Mallya is detained at Barrack 12 of Arthur Road prison, which she declared had been “recently redecorated”.
“There was no evidence which allowed me to find that if extradited, Mallya was at risk of suffering a flagrant denial of justice,” she added.