Mallya first Tycoon to be declared FEO

TNN Bureau. Updated: 1/6/2019 11:23:28 AM Front Page

MUMBAI: Weeks after a UK court ordered his extradition, former liquor baron Vijay Mallya, accused of defaulting on loans of over Rs 9,00O crore, received another blow as a Mumbai court declared him a "Fugitive Economic Offender" (FEO).

Mallya on Saturday became the first businessman to be declared an FEO under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act which came into existence in August 2018.

The Enforcement Directorate had moved the special court for FEOA for this purpose.

The agency had requested the court that Mallya, currently in the United Kingdom, be declared a fugitive and his properties be confiscated and brought under the control of the Union government as provided under the act.

"The application of the ED is partly allowed. Vijay Mallya is declared as Fugitive Economic Offender under section 12 (i) of the FEO Act," said judge M S Azmi in the order.

Hearing on the second part of ED's plea confiscation of properties will start from February 5.

Incidentally, the same court is also hearing ED's plea to declare diamond merchants Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi FEOs in the Punjab National Bank fraud case.

Mallya's lawyers requested the court to stay the order for four weeks so that they could obtain its full copy and move the high court. The judge declined, saying a court under the FEO Act can not stay its own order.

The ED had argued that it made all possible efforts to bring Mallya back to India, but failed.

The extradition process in the UK court was a proof enough that he was not willing to return, ED counsel D N Singh had contended.

Even after the London court upheld Indian authorities' plea for his extradition, Mallya decided to appeal against the order before the higher court there and refused to return, so he should be declared an FEO, Singh had argued.

Mallya's lawyers contended that as he had surrendered before a magistrate's court in London (during the hearing on his extradition case) and obtained bail, he could not be called a fugitive.

They had also questioned ED's claim that he left India under suspicious circumstances, arguing that he had left to attend a meeting of World Motor Sports as the director of an F1 team (Force India).

Mallya left India on March 2, 2016. A court in London on December 10, 2018 ordered his extradition.

Facing cases registered by the ED as well as the Central Bureau of Investigation, he is wanted for alleged fraud and money laundering amounting to an estimated Rs 9,000 crore.

Under the FEO Act, a person can be declared a Fugitive Economic Offender if a warrant has been issued against him for an offence involving an amount of Rs 100 crore or more and he has left the country and refuses to return.

Meanwhile, the BJP and the Congress were involved in a war of words after tainted businessman Vijay Mallya was declared a fugitive economic offender by a court on Saturday, with the ruling party attributing it to strict action by the Modi Government against loan defaulters who flee the country.

Claiming credit, the BJP said action against Mallya was taken under a law enacted by the Modi Government in August 2018, and termed it as "a feather in the cap" in its fight against corruption.

The Congress hit back saying that the BJP took credit for everything as if it all happened after 2014. It also raked up Mallya's statement made in September last year that he had met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley before leaving the country. Jaitley had rejected Mallya's claim as false, but the Congress has been raising it time and again to target the government.

"It is a feather in the cap for BJP's fight against corruption," BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said at a press conference.

"Mallya grew under the patronage of the Congress government. Despite being bankrupt, he was given loans and his loans were even restructured. He fled with Rs 9,000 crore of the country's money," he alleged.

He claimed that Mallya was in touch with Congress leaders and read out from a purported letter the liquor baron wrote to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh in which "he thanks him for his help and also begged for aid in securing a loan".

He claimed that Singh directed his secretary to help Mallya, and on November 14, 2011, in a press conference, the former PM had said that ways needed to be found to help Kingfisher.

"This is the difference between the previous government and us that they gave him extraordinary help, but in our regime we declared him an offender and a fugitive.

"Various senior Congress leaders used to get favours from Mallya in return. Nabbing Mallya and winning the extradition was our strict action against such fugitive offenders who flee after taking huge amount of loan from India and then make a fool of our government and government agencies," he said.

Meanwhile the Congress, which held a press conference soon after the BJP, ridiculed the ruling party , saying that going by the the BJP's "credit seeking" claims, India would be "celebrating its fifth birthday on May 26, 2019".

Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera alleged that Mallya had met Jaitley before fleeing the country.

"If the BJP is taking credit for declaring Mallya a FEO, then let them take credit as they are taking credit for everything from Mangalyaan, Chandrayan, Pokhran 1 to Pokhran 2 (nuclear tests)...we should be celebrating India's 5th birthday on May 26, 2019. The BJP feels that everything happened after its government came to power in 2014," he said.

Khera, however, said that "everyone knew" how Mallya fled to London.

"We all know...what happened and how it happened. In fact, a certain BJP minister recently even said that Mallya was not a fugitive and had not committed any fraud.

"When Mallya himself said that he left after meeting Arun Jaitley, sought his permission, so what else is there to say," said Khera.

Jaitley, who was finance minister in 2016 when Mallya left India, had said that he had not given Mallya an appointment to meet him since 2014. He had said that Mallya had "misused" the privilege of being a Rajya Sabha MP to catch him in corridors of Parliament on one occasion while he was walking out of the House to go to his room.

The Enforcement Directorate had requested the Prevention of Money Laundering Act court in Mumbai that Mallya, who is currently in the UK, be declared a fugitive and his properties be confiscated and brought under the control of the Union government.

Special judge M S Azmi declared Mallya an FEO under Section 12 of the Act after hearing extensive arguments from Mallya's lawyer and the ED counsel.

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