London: A defiant Vijay Mallya, wanted in India on alleged fraud and money laundering charges amounting to an estimated Rs 9,000 crores, Monday sought to disprove the narrative that he has “stolen” money and said his offer to repay the principal amount to the Indian banks was “not bogus”.
Mallya made the remarks while talking to reporters outside the Westminster Magistrates’ Court which is expected to deliver its verdict on his extradition after a year-long trial. The 62-year-old former Kingfisher Airlines boss has been on bail since his arrest on an extradition warrant in April last year.
Chief Magistrate Judge Emma Arbuthnot is expected to give her verdict on whether Mallya can be extradited to India to stand trial on the charges brought by the CBI and ED.
The decision would then go to the UK Home Office for the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to pass an order based on that verdict. Both sides will have the right to file for a permission to appeal in the Chief Magistrate’s ruling in the UK High Court.
“My settlement offer is made before the Karnataka High Court. It is not related to this extradition trial. Nobody disrespects a court of law by making a bogus offer. The assets have been attached by the ED so they cannot be bogus assets,” he said, asserting that his offer to repay the principal amount was not bogus.
The embattled liquor tycoon said that the value of his assets is more than enough to pay everybody and that is exactly what he was focusing on. “I want to disprove the narrative that I have stolen (money),” he said. He said his legal team will review the judgment and take proper steps thereafter.
Mallya has contested his extradition on the grounds that the case against him is “politically motivated” and the loans he has been accused of defrauding on were sought to keep his now-defunct airline afloat. “I did not borrow a single rupee. The borrower was Kingfisher Airlines. Money was lost due to a genuine and sad business failure. Being held as guarantor is not fraud,” he said in his most recent Twitter post on the issue. “I have offered to repay 100% of the principal amount to them. Please take it,” he had tweeted earlier. While dismissing that his intervention had anything to do with the extradition case, it came just days before Judge Emma Arbuthnot is expected to present her ruling in the case.
The trial, which opened at the Magistrates’ Court on December 4 last year, has gone through a series of hearings beyond the initial seven days earmarked for it.
It opened with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) team, led by Mark Summers, laying out the Indian government’s prima facie case of fraud and money laundering against Mallya.
Summers sought to establish a “blueprint of dishonesty” against the businessman and that there are no bars to his extradition on human rights grounds.
Mallya’s defence team, led by Clare Montgomery, deposed a series of experts in an attempt to prove that the erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines’ alleged default of bank loans was the result of business failure rather than a dishonest and fraudulent activity by its owner.
The court was also told that a consortium of Indian banks, led by State Bank of India (SBI), had rejected an offer by the liquor baron in early 2016 to pay back nearly 80% of the principal loan amount owed to them.
While the CPS argued that Mallya never intended to repay the loans he sought in the first place because his airline’s demise was inevitable, the defence tried to establish that Kingfisher Airlines was suffering from consequences of a wider global financial crisis around 2009-2010 and that its failure was a result of factors beyond the company’s control.
“There are clear signs that the banks seem to have gone against their own guidelines [in sanctioning some of the loans],” Judge Arbuthnot had noted during the course of the trial.
In relation to the attempts by the defence to dispute Indian prison conditions as a bar to Mallya’s extradition on human rights grounds, the judge had indicated to the CPS that she did not require any further information in reference to the prison conditions awaiting Mallya at Barrack 12 of Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail after seeking a video of the cell.
“If the judge is satisfied that all of the procedural requirements are met and that none of the statutory bars to extradition apply, he or she must send the case to the Secretary of State for a decision to be taken on whether to order extradition,” explains Pavani Reddy, a UK-based legal expert and Managing Partner of Zaiwalla & Co.
The judge’s decision on whether to send Mallya’s case to UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid can be appealed with the UK High Court’s permission, with the person to be extradited entitled to make an application for permission to appeal to the High Court within 14 days of the date of the Chief Magistrate’s ruling.
On the other hand, the Indian government would also have 14 days to file leave to appeal to the High Court, seeking permission to appeal against a decision not to extradite.
“In case the concerned individual does not file an appeal, and Secretary of State agrees with the magistrate’s decision, then the individual must be extradited from the UK within 28 days of the Home Secretary’s extradition order.
“This will also apply if an appeal lodged by either party in the High Court is unsuccessful, but the 28 days will commence from the date when the appeal hearing was concluded,” said Reddy.