• Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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India’s top court gives ‘final opportunity’ to Mallya to appear before it

Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya. (Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

INDIA’S Supreme Court has given a “final opportunity” to fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya to appear before it personally or through his lawyer in a contempt case where he has been found guilty.

Mallya, who is currently living in the UK, is accused of bank loan defaults of more than Rs 90 billion (£880 million) in India involving his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines.

The top court said it has given multiple opportunities to Mallya to appear either personally or through a lawyer.

A bench of justices U U Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and P S Narasimha posted the contempt case for further hearing after two weeks.

It said Mallya is at liberty to act as per the direction given in its order on November 30 last year, failing which the matter shall be taken to its “logical conclusion”.

At the outset, the bench told senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, who has been appointed amicus curiae in the matter, that it has found the contemnor guilty of contempt of court, and now, punishment has to be imposed.

“Going by normal logic, the contemnor has to be heard but from that stage, he has not appeared before the court. What course should the court adopt?” the bench asked Gupta.

Gupta said that the contemnor does not need to be physically present, and he can appear through his counsel, and the court may clarify this further in its order.

Justice Bhat said the case has different colours, and the contemnor has abstained from the proceedings.

“Next hearing, the same thing will happen. We will have to pronounce the sentence in absentia. In this situation, in other countries courts are not powerless. We want assistance in that regard,” Justice Bhat said.

The bench said this problem should not become a gateway for courts of first instance to adopt this course.

“We will have to say that this is in extraordinary circumstances in which he has been found guilty and is on the run. We need to have appropriate safeguards,” it said.

Gupta said the court would have to make it clear what would happen and what consequences would follow if Mallya does not appear either personally or through his lawyer.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government, said the court has inherent jurisdiction in contempt cases and that it has given enough opportunity to Mallya, which he has not taken.

He said the Indian government has been informed by UK officials that there is some confidential proceeding going on which cannot be shared.

The bench asked Gupta, “What should the court do? Should we appoint an amicus for the contemnor or do we proceed ahead? Normally, in criminal matters, we appoint an amicus to represent the accused.”

Gupta said if no lawyer appears for him or makes submissions on behalf of him, then the court should appoint an amicus curiae to represent the accused.

On November 30 last year, the top court had said it could wait any longer and the sentencing aspect in the contempt matter against Mallya would be dealt with finally.

It had in 2020 dismissed Mallya’s plea seeking a review of its 2017 verdict which held him guilty of contempt for transferring $40 million (£29.46m) to his children in violation of court orders.

On January 18 last year, the Indian government had said it was making all efforts to extradite Mallya from the UK but the process is being delayed due to some legal issues involved in the matter.

Mallya has been in the UK since March 2016. He is on bail on an extradition warrant executed three years ago by the Scotland Yard on April 18, 2017.

(PTI)

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