Mallya case has ‘number of rabbit holes’ to go down, lawyer tells court


FILE PHOTO: Former Kingfisher airline boss Vijay Mallya at the Royal Courts of Justice. (Photo: Simon Dawson/Reuters)
FILE PHOTO: Former Kingfisher airline boss Vijay Mallya at the Royal Courts of Justice. (Photo: Simon Dawson/Reuters)

LIQUOR baron Vijay Mallya on Tuesday (11) appeared before the Royal Courts of Justice in London for his appeal against extradition to India, where his lawyer claimed “multiple errors” in a magistrates’ court order favouring the Indian government.

The former Kingfisher Airlines boss, who remains on bail since his arrest on an extradition warrant in April 2017, is wanted in India to face fraud and money laundering charges amounting to Rs 9,000 crores (£1 billion).

Mallya, 64, avoided reporters at the court entrance and went in with his lawyers separately. “I am here just to listen,” he said, when asked for a comment.

Justice Stephen Irwin and Justice Elisabeth Laing were told by Mallya’s barrister that Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot’s verdict in favour of extradition in December 2018 was flawed, and also questioned the admissibility of some witness statements submitted by the Indian government.

Clare Montgomery opened her arguments to try establish that Mallya had no fraudulent intentions when he sought bank loans for his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines.

She said he was no “fly-by-night figure but an immensely wealthy man” who was not running any sort of “ponzi scheme” but a reputable airline, which fell into economic misfortune along with other Indian airlines.

In what she described as a “very dense case”, which had become extraordinarily difficult to manage, as there were “any number of rabbit holes” to go down, Montgomery said: “She (Arbuthnot) did not look at all of the evidence because, if she had, she would not have fallen into the multiple errors that permeate her judgment.”

The hearing is scheduled for three days with Mallya’s barrister to lay out her oral arguments, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), on behalf of the Indian government, set to counter on Wednesday. A verdict may be handed down at the end of the hearing on Thursday, but judgment could be delayed to a later date depending on how the hearing progresses.

Representatives from India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) were present in court as Montgomery yet again raised questions over whether the CBI behaved “properly in bringing charges” against Mallya under its former Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who, she said, may have been guilty of “misconduct”.

Judge Irwin intervened to question whether she could re-enter these pervious claims, which had already been rejected at the magistrates’ court and sought clarifications on where the chief magistrate may have erred in applying law.

Mallya had received permission to appeal against his extradition order signed by Sajid Javid when he was home secretary in February last year only on one ground, which challenges the Indian government’s prima facie case against him of fraudulent intentions in acquiring bank loans.

The High Court has already accepted Judge Arbuthnot’s conclusions on all other aspects of the case, including the so-called “extraneous circumstances” of Mallya being pursued by the Indian authorities for political reasons of a clash between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress party.

Some of the other grounds invoked in last year’s hearing claimed Mallya would not receive a fair trial in India, which was also dismissed as the judges upheld Arbuthnot’s ruling on the matter that the wide media interest in the Mallya case would ensure justice.

His legal team had also sought to challenge the Indian government’s assurances that Mallya would be held in safe prison conditions at Barrack 12 in Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, which was dismissed by the High Court.

At the end of a year-long extradition trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London in December 2018, Judge Arbuthnot had found “clear evidence of dispersal and misapplication of the loan funds” and accepted a prima facie case of fraud and a conspiracy to launder money against Mallya, as presented by the CPS on behalf of the Indian government.

Mallya remains on bail involving a bail bond worth £650,000 and other restrictions on his travel while he contests that ruling.