It has turned out to be yet another case of one who flew over the nest of investigating agencies, bidding good bye to them in the midst of an ongoing probe. Vijay Mallya, who loved to call himself “”The King of Good Times””, liquor baron who headed the UB group and was also a Rajya Sabha member, left the country on March 2 even as a lookout notice against him had been issued. The wilful defaulter owes Rs. 7,000 crore in loans to 17 state-owned banks. In last July, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had registered a suo motu FIR against Mallya, his now defunct airline Kingfisher and its chief financial officer, alleging that the loans were sanctioned in violation of norms regarding credit limits. One such loan of Rs. 900 crore was given to him in 2009 by state-owned IDBI Bank despite a memo, stating that his company had failed to meet compliance. Other public sector banks in line to get their money back include biggies like the State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, UCO Bank and Bank of India. The banks wanted his passport and travel frozen but little did they know that Mallya had flown away to safety.
The Supreme Court was told on Wednesday by Attorney-General of India Mukul Rohatgi that Mallya had left the country on March 2. He asked the court to demand his return. As all high-profile economic offenders do, Mallya too followed the script to the dot. A day before, he planned his flight abroad, Mallya was reportedly seen in Parliament House, meeting his friends in political circles. Though his exact whereabouts are not known, it is likely that he is in England where he has good number of assets. Even British liquor giant Diageo had recently cut a sweet heart deal with him worth Rs. 515 crore of which Rs. 269 crore has been paid to him but in a setback to him, the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) has ruled that he cannot withdraw $ 75 million payment which he had received from Diageo. Mallya had stated that he had directly invested Rs. 4000 crore in Kingfisher Airlines which now stands fully impaired, terming it a bad business venture owing to the economic situation then and government decisions in civil aviation sector. The high-profile airline, named after the popular brand of beer which his company makes, shut shop in October 2012, driving thousands of employees in despair and leaving them without jobs.
A cursory glance at recent high-profile offenders would reveal that they were able to turn a blind eye to Indiaâ€™s legal process and had managed to flee â€“ be it Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson, a U.S. national, who was arrested in 1984 only for a few hours after a deadly gas leak from Carbide plant in Bhopal had killed thousands. Using his connections, he was able to fly out of India never to submit him to the legal process in India or be it Ottavio Quattrocchi, an accused in Bofors payoffs case, who was allowed to slip away in 1993, three years after the CBI had registered FIR in Bofors case. He could never be extradited back to India.
It took two years for the CBI to arrest Nirmal Singh Bhangoo, a little known businessman and chairman of Pearl Group, early this year who launched a ponzi scheme, managed to allegedly con about five crore people in a scam that runs into Rs. 50,000 crore, by far independent Indiaâ€™s biggest financial scam. He gave land guarantee to lure investors who paid a certain amount of money. He also has massive investments in Australia and his land pool runs into lakhs of acres spread across a dozen States and for the last decade legal battle went on to ascertain if any case was made out against him or not! The CBI would need massive resources to probe the scam threadbare with voluminous documents, 1300 bank accounts already frozen. His influence in political class was said to be widespread and his Pearl group was also a co-sponsor of IPL team Kings XI Punjab.
It is only under the Supreme Court scanner that Sahara group chief Subrata Roy has been lodged in Tihar jail in the Capital for the last one and a half years as his group failed to come up with refunds to the regulator SEBI. It would be a test case for the Modi government, the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) which has registered a money laundering case against Mallya to track him down and make him submit to the legal process. The track record of the investigation agencies indicate that they are most likely to falter and a big, influential and powerful accused like Mallya would continue to dodge them on one pretext or the other. Economic offences, termed as serious which affect the nationâ€™s financial health by the Supreme Court, will continue to be treated with kidsâ€™ gloves.”