A year since the trial began, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on Monday will deliver its verdict on whether beleaguered liquor baron Vijay Mallya can be extradited to India to face charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to Rs 9,000 crore. A joint team of CBI and ED, led by CBI Joint Director A Sai Manohar, has left for the UK to attend the court proceedings. Earlier, special joint director Rakesh Asthana, who has been sent on leave, was leading the case.
The 62-year-old former Kingfisher Airlines chief has been on bail since his arrest on an extradition warrant in April last year. Mallya, who has been living in Britain since March 2016, has contested his extradition on the grounds that the case against him was “politically motivated” and the loans he has been accused of defrauding on were sought to keep his now-defunct airline afloat.
However, days before his extradition hearing, Mallya offered to pay “100 per cent” of the principal amount he owed to a consortium of 17 banks led by State Bank of India, which alone had an exposure of Rs 1600 crore.
“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. I have offered to repay 100 per cent of the principal amount to them. Please take it,” the flamboyant businessman tweeted on Wednesday.
The extradition trial, which began at the Magistrates’ Court on December 4 last year, has gone through a series of hearings beyond the initial seven days earmarked for it. Only one person has ever been extradited from the UK to India under the extradition treaty between the two countries signed in 1993. Samirbhai Vinubhai Patel, wanted in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots, was extradited in October 2016.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) team, led by Mark Summers, representing the Indian government, said there was a prima facie case of fraud and money laundering against Mallya. It argued that Mallya had intended, “from the outset”, never to repay the loans he sought for his struggling airline and misrepresented its profitability.
Countering the charge, Mallya’s defence team told the court that the consortium of banks rejected an offer by the liquor baron in early 2016 to pay back nearly 80 per cent of the principal loan amount owed to them. They also 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 “dishonest” and “fraudulent” activity by its owner.