In a bid to prevent offenders from escaping investigation and fleeing abroad anymore, central agencies, including the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), have started putting restrictions on their travel to foreign locations where they have personal or business set-ups.
Officials said they had prepared a list of offenders, along with people against whom enquiries have been launched. They have also prepared a database of their associations and connections abroad.
“Even in case of a medical emergency, the person concerned can only travel to a location which has no direct or indirect connection with the probe,” said an official.
Usually, central law and enforcement agencies issue look-out circulars against a prospective fugitive. These restrictions will now be put on the circulars themselves.
The fresh move came after three high-profile offenders — Vijay Mallya and diamantaires Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi — escaped investigations. Now, India is fighting a legal battle abroad to get them extradited.
Source said the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has also prepared a list of at least 20 individuals and sent it to the immigration department to prevent them from flying overseas.
However, legal experts are of the view that just an enquiry does not have legal sanctity in the court of law and it is nothing but a routine exercise followed by the CBI before formally launching a formal complaint. There have been many cases in the past where the CBI closed the enquiry without registering an FIR as it didn’t find merit or evidence in the complaint.
Some officials argued that the a look-out circular derives its statutory backing from the Passport Act 1967, which empowers the Union government to revoke the passport or any travel documents if the passport authority deems it necessary to do so in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity or security of India, or is in the interests of the general public.
Earlier, investigating agencies requested look-out circulars in cognisable offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or other laws in case the accused evaded arrest or did not appear before court despite issuance of non-bailable warrants to prevent the likelihood of the accused leaving the country.
The probe agency concerned issues look-out circulars on the basis of preliminary enquiry it registers in the case. Typically, the circular can be issued by central agencies to the Bureau of Immigration. Then immigration teams circulate the same to the various immigration points in the country and missions abroad.
A look-out circular is valid for a year unless its duration is specified.
Recently, a CBI special court allowed Robert Vadra to travel to the US and the Netherlands for treatment. The court has, however, not given him permission to travel to London as he owns property there.
Vadra had appealed to court for releasing the passport evoked by the CBI to travel to London. But the investigator informed the court that he should not be granted permission as it may have an impact on the on-going investigation.
Last year, the CBI had issued a look-out circular against Deepak Kochhar, the husband of former ICICI Bank chief Chanda Kochhar and Videocon promoter Venugopal Dhoot in the ICICI-Videcon loan case.
This was issued when Deepak Kochhar was not named in the CBI first information report. Later, the ED issued a look-out circular against his brother Rajiv Kochhar in the same case. In an another instance, former chairman of cash-strapped Jet Airways Naresh Goyal and his wife were stopped from flying aboard even when no case was registered against him.