Embattled liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya was back in a UK court on Friday for a hearing in his ongoing extradition trial. The 62-year-old, who is wanted in India to face charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around Rs 9,000 crore, is currently on a 650,000 pounds bail since his arrest on an extradition warrant by Scotland Yard in April last year.
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court here is set to consider some additional material sought from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, hear closing arguments, and set a timeline for a verdict in the case – which is expected by next month. At the last hearing in the case on March 16, the judge had noted that it was “blindingly obvious” that rules were being broken by Indian banks which sanctioned some of the loans to the erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines owned by Mallya.
“There are clear signs that the banks seem to have gone against their own guidelines (in sanctioning some of the loans),” she said, “inviting” the Indian authorities to explain the case against some of the bank officials involved because that relates to the “conspiracy” allegations against Mallya. At the end of that hearing, the judge had indicated her decision on the admissibility of evidence would go in favour of admitting some material and excluding some affidavits, which she said did not pertain to the prima facie case of fraud.
Mallya’s counsel, Clare Montgomery, had also argued that evidence which was claimed as a “blueprint of dishonesty” by the CPS was in fact a privileged interaction between Mallya and his lawyer about “legal advice in clear contemplation of litigation” and hence should be inadmissible. The judge said she was still “on the fence” about admitting that correspondence. Today’s hearing comes days after the Indian government’s High Court appeal against a previous Westminster Magistrates’ Court extradition ruling that had been denied.
UK-based Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, wanted in India as a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal involving former South African captain Hanse Cronje in 2000, had been discharged in October last year on human rights grounds over severe conditions in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where the accused was to be held on being extradited. District Judge Rebecca Crane had based her verdict to discharge Chawla largely upon the testimony of Dr Alan Mitchell, former head of healthcare at the Scottish Prison Service and an elected member of the European Council’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).
Mallya’s defence team has previously deposed the same prisons expert in his extradition case, who told Judge Arbuthnot during the course of the trial that conditions in all Indian jails are “far from satisfactory”. During the last hearing in the case in March, CPS barrister Mark Summers reiterated that the Indian government had provided further clarifications related to availability of natural light and medical assistance at Barrack 12 of Mumbai Central Prison on Arthur Road, where Mallya is to be held if he is extradited from the UK.
The trial, which opened at the London court on December 4 last year, is aimed at laying out a prima facie case of fraud against Mallya, who has been based in the UK since he left India in March 2016. It also seeks to prove there are no “bars to extradition” and that the tycoon is assured a fair trial in India over his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines’ alleged default of over Rs 9,000 crore in loans from a consortium of Indian banks.
The CPS, representing the Indian government, has argued that the evidence they have presented establishes “dishonesty” on the part of the businessman and that there are no bars to him being extradited from the UK to face Indian courts. Mallya’s defence team has deposed a series of expert witnesses to claim he had no “fraudulent” intentions and that he is unlikely to get a fair trial in India.
If the judge rules in favour of the Indian government, the UK home secretary will have two months to sign Mallya’s extradition order. However, both sides will have the chance to appeal in higher courts in the UK against the Magistrates’ Court verdict. (PTI)