‘Confidential’ issue holding up Mallya extradition: UK

Updated on Jun 05, 2020 01:06 AM IST

Indian agencies and legal experts could only speculate about the nature of the issue that has cropped up-- from coronavirus infections in the Mumbai prison where he is to be held on his return to the possibility that he has applied for asylum in the UK or may be planning to approach the European Court of Human Rights.

Vijay Mallya, 64, lost his appeal against the 2018 order to extradite him in the UK high court in April.(ANI)
Vijay Mallya, 64, lost his appeal against the 2018 order to extradite him in the UK high court in April.(ANI)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByRezaul H Laskar and Neeraj Chauhan

Britain said on Thursday that a “confidential” legal issue was holding up the extradition of businessman Vijay Mallya to India, where he is wanted by investigative agencies for alleged financial offences, but that it was seeking to deal with the matter as quickly as possible.

Indian agencies and legal experts could only speculate about the nature of the issue that has cropped up-- from coronavirus infections in the Mumbai prison where he is to be held on his return to the possibility that he has applied for asylum in the UK or may be planning to approach the European Court of Human Rights.

Mallya, 64, lost his appeal against the 2018 order to extradite him in the UK high court in April. Last month, the high court also refused Mallya permission to appeal in the UK Supreme Court.

Amid a string of reports in the Indian media that Mallya’s extradition was imminent, a spokesperson for the British high commission said there was still a legal issue of a confidential nature that must be resolved before the businessman can be sent back to India.

“Vijay Mallya last month lost his appeal against extradition, and was refused leave to appeal further to the UK Supreme Court,” the spokesperson said.

“However, there is a further legal issue that needs resolving before Mr Mallya’s extradition can be arranged. Under United Kingdom law, extradition cannot take place until it is resolved. The issue is confidential and we cannot go into any detail,” the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson declined to “estimate how long this issue will take to resolve”, and said: “We are seeking to deal with this as quickly as possible.”

Mallya is wanted in India to face charges of financial offences involving 9,000 crore borrowed by his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines from several Indian banks. He left India in March 2016 for the UK as his creditors closed in on him to recover the loans. UK home secretary Priti Patel is expected to make a final decision on his extradition.

British authorities, through the external affairs ministry, have also informed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) about the “confidential” legal issue in the way of Mallya’s extradition.

However, officials in both agencies said they weren’t given details of the issue on the grounds that UK law didn’t allow disclosure of details before it is resolved.

Both agencies also suspect Mallya had applied for asylum in the UK on “certain unknown specific grounds” because his claim of a “political witch-hunt” against him has been debunked by British courts.

After the UK high court declined on May 14 to give Mallya permission to appeal in the Supreme Court, the extradition was to have been carried out within a 28-day “removal period” as set out in the Extradition Act of 2003. This period ends on June 23.

There is also a possibility that Mallya could use coronavirus infections at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, where he is to be held, as a “change of circumstance” to avoid or delay his extradition, people familiar with developments said. There are close to 200 Covid-19 cases in the prison and Mallya has underlying health conditions that could be exacerbated by the virus, the people said.

Senior district judge Emma Arbuthnot had issued the ruling for Mallya’s extradition to India in December 2018 in response to a request from the Indian government, which has accused him of “knowingly misrepresenting” the profitability of his companies when he sought bank loans in 2009.

The UK high court, in its ruling in April, upheld the senior district judge’s verdict. When the UK high court refused Mallya permission to appeal to the Supreme Court last month on the grounds that his case didn’t involve a “point of law of general public importance”, the long-drawn extradition process was believed to have entered the last stage.

Mallya, arrested in London in April 2017, also has the option of approaching the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that his human rights would be at risk if extradited.

Zulfiquar Memon, managing partner at the law firm MZM Legal and an international extradition expert, said: “Since the British high commission has said it’s a confidential issue, it’s difficult to say what Mallya has applied for but one thing is for sure – he must have taken a particular plea as part of his Plan B a long time back.

“It’s just that it’s taking shape now. It could be anything – asylum on grounds of human rights violation or the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Delhi-based lawyer Sherbir Panag, an expert on white collar crimes, said, “I think asylum is not possible for Mallya because in the UK, one has to show that one is coming to that country without any baggage and that something changed in the home country. If he has taken any plea, it has to be on the basis of something new, which nobody knows since it’s confidential. His plea of a political witch-hunt and human rights violations in jails was already rejected during the extradition hearing.”

(With inputs from Prasun Sonwalkar in London)

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