At first, it seems a fresh scene from Bollywood, super wealthy tycoons, high class socialites with most sought- after networks, finally loot the banks and flee the country. ‘Catch me if you can’ is the situation wherein the governmental agencies and the three fugitives are making best bets at their respective ends. Surely, the arguments and the counter arguments are leading to nowhere except that it is delaying the entire process and taking it nowhere.
As per reports, Rs 19,111crore worth of assets of India’s much talked about fugitives, Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi have been attached so far by the Indian government authorities, but the trio, for reasons unknown still remain at large. Vijay Mallya, chairman of the now closed Kingfisher Airlines, was ordered to be extradited by the British judiciary in 2019, is yet to be sent to India. Similarly, diamantaire Nirav Modi continues to fight a legal battle to avoid deportation. He is in custody at south London’s Wandworth prison since his arrest in 2019.
According to a Supreme Court judgment on July 14, 2017, Mallya was found guilty of contempt for not paying Rs 9,000 crore worth of dues to the banks despite repeated directions. He was also accused of not disclosing his assets in order to defeat the purpose of recovery proceedings. Kingfisher Airlines, founded by Mallya in 2005, collapsed in 2008 due to a global recession and sky-high fuel prices. The airline was forced to shut down in 2012 due to mounting debt that made it difficult for the airline to continue operations. Mallya fled to the United Kingdom in 2016 after facing pressure from the lenders, but in 2017, he was arrested in the UK after India requested his extradition. Mallya became the first person to be declared a fugitive economic offender by a PMLA court in India in January 2019. A month later, then Home Secretary of the UK Sajid Javid approved his extradition to India, but all the efforts seem to go in vain.
In yet another similar fashion, in January 2018, Punjab National Bank filed a police complaint against Nirav Modi, Gitanjali Gems promoter Mehul Choksi and others. PNB disclosed a Rs 11,400-crore fraud at one of its Mumbai branches and filed a complaint with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) saying Modi, a billionaire jeweller, connived with some of its officials to defraud the bank using fake bank guarantees. As soon as the government agencies swung to action, seizing a cumulative Rs 56.74 bilion worth of jewllery from Nirav Modi’s home and offices in February 2018, he had already fled!
In December 2021, the parliament was informed that 33 accused in bank fraud cases registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) fled the country in the last five years. Even as the agencies worked on the nitty-gritty of international laws to extradite the accused, Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Mehul Choksi, who collectively owe Rs 22,000 crore to banks in India, are still at large. The only saving grace for the government is Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman informing about bank recovery of as much as Rs 19,111crore from the sale of assets belonging to fugitive economic offenders Mallya, Modi, and Choksi. But recovering money from the fugitives may not be enough, as the fight against corruption is not about recovering money, but punishing offenders. The Enforcement Directorate has sent extradition requests to various countries and filed applications under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 against defaulters fleeing Indian jurisdiction.
Despite coming close to getting the three accused extradited to India, the agencies have faced roadblocks at different levels in getting custody of the accused. In the run-up to the 2024 general elections, this could become an interesting agenda to see what is governments’ stand on recovering money from Mallya, Modi and Choksi, or even getting them back in India as the trophy of the battle against corruption!