Extradition ‘stalled’; Vijay Mallya seeks asylum?
Fugitive Indian businessman and former member of Parliament Vijay Mallya’s extradition from the United Kingdom to India has been stalled by “secret” proceedings that have commenced in the UK, the central government told the Supreme Court on Monday, a development suggesting that the former liquor baron may have sought asylum in the UK.
Although the extradition proceedings against the liquor baron concluded in May after the UK high court rejected Mallya’s plea to approach the UK Supreme Court against the proposed extradition to India, the fresh proceedings have delayed his departure for India, the apex court was told.
“After extradition proceedings were complete, another secret proceeding has commenced, but we have not been notified and we are not a party to the proceedings. The extradition is not happening (due to the new proceedings),” advocate Rajat Nair, representing the central government, told a bench headed by justice UU Lalit.
Mallya flew to the UK in March 2016 as a consortium of Indian banks, which claims that he owes them ₹9,000 crore in principal and interest on loans extended to his defunct Kingfisher Airlines, closed in on him to recover the money. He was subsequently declared a wilful defaulter in India.
In London, speculation arose that most likely issue holding up Mallya’s extradition to India was an application for asylum, which is a process on which British authorities do not publicly comment in individual cases as a matter of policy and strict data protection laws.
Mallya has lost a series of challenges to his extradition in the Westminster Magistrates Court and the high court since proceedings began after his arrest in April 2017.
Under UK rules, until an asylum application is determined, extradition cannot be carried out.
“It’s an asylum claim for sure”, an individual associated with past extraditions said.
A ministry of home affairs spokesperson did not respond to HT’s queries on the matter.
A high commission spokesperson had stated on June 5: “Vijay Mallya last month lost his appeal against extradition, and was refused leave to appeal further to the UK Supreme Court.”
“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. We cannot estimate how long this issue will take to resolve. We are seeking to deal with this as quickly as possible.”
The UK home office has a backlog of over 100,000 asylum applications.
In the year ending June 2020, the UK offered protection – in the form of asylum, humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave and resettlement – to 16,952 people, latest official figures show.
Grant rates vary considerably by nationality as the protection requirements of specific nationalities or individuals vary, officials said, adding that of those nationalities that commonly claim asylum in the UK, Libyans (98%) and Syrians (96%) typically have high grant rates, while nationals of India (3%), China (19%) and Bangladesh (16%) typically have low grant rates.
On Monday, the Indian Supreme Court asked Mallya’s counsel, Ankur Saigal, about the nature of the fresh proceedings cited by the Centre, but the lawyer said that he had not received any instructions from his client on the subject. The bench, which also comprised justice Ashok Bhushan, objected to Saigal’s response.
“As his counsel, you must be completely aware. You cannot say you are not aware,” the court remarked, and posted the case for the next hearing on November 2.
The court also ordered Mallya’s lawyer to submit a concrete response on November 2 about the nature of the fresh proceedings in the UK, when those proceedings are likely to conclude and when Mallya will make an appearance before Supreme Court.
The court was hearing a contempt petition filed against Mallya by 14 banks including State Bank of India for violation of the Supreme Court’s order of April 2016 asking the fugitive businessman to disclose details of all his properties and assets in India and abroad.
The contempt plea itself arose from a case filed by the banks before the Debt Recovery Tribunal in Bengaluru against Mallya seeking recovery of more than ₹6,300 crore owed to them in 2016 by Mallya’s companies.
The banks had also prayed that Mallya’s passport should be frozen and he should be arrested.
The DRT failed to hear that prayer by the banks, prompting them to approach the Karnataka high court, seeking appropriate directions to the tribunal for quick disposal of the application moved by banks.
The Karnataka high court in March 2016 denied the request, prompting the banks to move the Supreme Court, which in April 2016 sought details from Mallya about his assets.
The banks approached the top court in July 2016 alleging that Mallya failed to make such disclosure. The judgment in that contempt case holding Mallya guilty was pronounced only on May 9, 2017 nearly 10 months after the plea was filed.