The Hush Post: The extradition trial of Vijay Mallya began in a UK court with the prosecution asserting that the embattled liquor baron had a “case of fraud” to answer back in India for Rs 9,000 crore fraud and money laundering. Sporting a funny long hairstyle with a beard, Mallya arrived at Westminster Magistrates Court wearing a dark blue pin-striped suit and gold-rimmed dark glasses.
He was mobbed by a large crowd of Indian reporters on arrival, and again later when the building was briefly evacuated because of a fire alarm and he had to step outside. Inside the courtroom, Mallya watched the proceedings from behind a glass-windowed dock. A four-member CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) team from India had also arrived at the court ahead of the trial. The case against Mallya, 61, centers on a series of loans his company Kingfisher obtained from Indian banks, and in particular from state-owned IDBI. Indian banks want to recover a total of about $1.4 billion that the Indian authorities say Kingfisher owes to the bank.
Mallya’s defence team tried to get the judge to allow him to sit outside the dock to have access to his lawyers and some of the complicated paperwork, but the judge denied that request saying all defendants are expected to sit in the dock. However, the judge directed that a table be provided to Mallya for easier access to his paperwork.
Mark Summers, the British lawyer acting for India told the court at the start of a two-week extradition hearing that it was entitled to conclude that he never intended to repay money borrowed by Kingfisher from IDBI in 2009.
The judge noted that businessmen in this position would be “hopeful that things will turn around”, but the Crown Prosecution Service(CPS), as the prosecution is called in UK, said this was not the case with Kingfisher Airlines. Instead of absorbing losses, which would ‘impinge on his lifestyle’, Mallya chose to palm it off to banks, in particular state-owned banks, the prosecution lawyer said. Several internal emails, the government claims, disclose the reality of the position which was misrepresented to the banks, he said.
The CPS went on to add that loans acquired in the name of rescuing the struggling airline were in fact used to pay off other debts, including paying the rent on a corporate jet “owned by Kingfisher but operated for the defendant’s (Mallya) own benefit”.
Mallya claimed later that those personal guarantees were secured by the banks under duress, a move the CPS highlighted was not the actions of an honest person. The judge responded with a chuckle by saying it was “quite inventive though”.
Mallya’s barrister, Clare Montgomery, told the judge that she had hoped to set out the defence’s opening arguments on the first day but the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) said it will “not be rushed” as it lays out the complete chronology of events. Mallya’s defense team were to respond orally later in the hearing. In a written document prepared before the hearing, his lawyers argued that the extradition request be rejected because of a lack of evidence, the “abusive origins” of the case, the impossibility of a fair trial in India and detention conditions there being incompatible with British human rights laws.
The judge will have to decide whether there is a prima facie case against Mallya and whether the alleged crimes would be offences in Britain as well as India.The hearing is due to conclude next week. A judgement in the case, being presided over by Judge Emma Louise Arbuthnot, is unlikely until early next year. The judge had agreed to effectively re-open a fresh case so that all charges can be heard concurrently in court. If the judge rules in favour of extradition at the end of the trial, the UK home secretary must order Mallya’s extradition within two months. However, the case can go through a series of appeals in higher UK courts before arriving at a conclusion. Judge Arbuthnot and her colleague, Rebecca Crane, at Westminster Magistrates Court have recently rejected two other long-pending extradition requests from India.
Mallya, who has been out on bail since Scotland Yard executed an extradition warrant in April this year, will be in the dock for the duration of the trial scheduled to end on December 14. While on strict bail conditions, which include providing a bail bond worth 650,000 pounds, surrender of his passport and a ban on possessing any travel documents, the former Rajya Sabha member has been based at his Hertfordshire estate Ladywalk in the village of Tewin, nearly 50-km from London. The tycoon has been on self-imposed exile in the UK since he left India on March 2, 2016. Mallya has business interests ranging from aviation to liquor. He is also the co-owner of the Formula One motor racing team Force India.