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Sunday, Aug 25, 2019

Vijay Mallya witness reiterates CBI is ‘caged parrot’; grilled by India’s lawyer

The first half of Day 5 of Vijay Mallya’s extradition hearing focussed on Lawrence Saez, professor of political economy at the School of Oriental and African Studies deposing on Mallya’s behalf, and Mark Summers, lawyer for India, grilling him for what he called “regurgitating” press reports to form his expert witness evidence against the CBI.

india Updated: Dec 12, 2017 23:45 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar, London
F1 Force India team boss Vijay Mallya leaves Westminster Magistrates Court during the lunch break, in London on  Tuesday.
F1 Force India team boss Vijay Mallya leaves Westminster Magistrates Court during the lunch break, in London on Tuesday.(AP)

A political expert on Tuesday recalled the various criticisms made against the CBI, including a Supreme Court’s comparison with a “caged parrot”, and alleged in the ongoing extradition trial of controversial businessman Vijay Mallya that the agency faced more political interference under the NDA government than the previous regime.

The first half of the day’s hearing at the Westminster magistrate’s court focussed on Lawrence Saez, professor of political economy at the School of Oriental and African Studies, deposing on Mallya’s behalf, and prosecution lawyer Mark Summers grilling him on his expert observations.

The CBI is the lead agency investigating the former liquor baron’s alleged financial offences.

The post-lunch session saw banking expert Paul Rex return to depose on issues related to loans secured by Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines from IDBI Bank. Summers tried to make Rex agree that payments were made from the loan for purposes other than what they were intended for. The defence – in turn – sought to show through Rex’s responses that no misrepresentations were made to secure the loans, as alleged by India.

Mallya’s lawyer sought to build its case about the businessman being the victim of a political witch-hunt by depicting that the CBI was – far from being independent – highly influenced by its political masters.

Saez reiterated in court that both the Congress and BJP were allegedly trying to reap political capital from the Mallya case. Summers, however, grilled him for his over-reliance on press reports to form conclusions on Indian politics as well as the CBI. The expert defended his strategy on the grounds that the Indian press was as free and credible a source of information as any.

“There is widespread politicisation of the Mallya case. If this is not resolved before the 2019 elections, it will continue to be used for political purposes by the BJP and the Congress,” the expert said, adding that there was no evidence of fraud against the businessman.

Saez cited press reports and a commentary in the Economic and Political Weekly to state that the CBI lacked political independence. He also used accounts by former CBI director Joginder Singh to substantiate his criticism of the agency.

Summers asked Saez if he had done any research – apart from “regurgitating” press reports – before finalising his opinions. He noted how Saez did not mention that the independent Central Vigilance Commission held oversight of the CBI.

To this, Saez replied: “There may be people who have a different view of the CBI. I don’t damn the institution overall but some if its aspects, particularly lack of independence. In many cases, the CBI probably operates in a fair manner.”

Though Saez raised the issue of CBI special director Rakesh Asthana’s appointment, Summers countered the claim by submitting a recent Supreme Court judgment upholding the decision. The prosecution highlighted a point made in its ruling that the charges against Asthana had been brought on the basis of incorrect press reports.

Before the day began, Summers brought a note by Portsmouth University Law academic Shubhankar Dam – the lead author of a research article cited by the defence’s law expert Martin Lau to allege corruption in the Supreme Court – to the notice of magistrate Emma Arbuthnot. Dam criticised the manner in which the article had been grossly misrepresented by Lau, and said it was based on a small sample that cannot be used to make general comments about the apex court.

Alan Mitchell, an expert on prison conditions, is due to depose on Thursday. The defence is also seeking a court ruling on the admissibility of some documents submitted by India.

First Published: Dec 12, 2017 22:17 IST

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