Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya should be extradited from Britain to India to face fraud charges resulting from the collapse of his defunct Kingfisher Airlines, a London court ruled on Monday.
India wants to bring criminal action against Mallya, 62, whose business interests have ranged from aviation to liquor, over $1.4 billion in loans Kingfisher took out from Indian banks which the authorities argue he had no intention of repaying.
Mallya, who co-owned the Formula One motor racing team Force India until it went into administration in July, has denied all wrongdoing and argued the case against him was politically motivated.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot, England’s chief magistrate, decided there was a prima facie case against Mallya, who moved to Britain in March 2016, and his human rights would not be infringed if he were extradited. Her ruling will now be passed to the interior minister who must also approve it.
Arbuthnot said there was no sign that the case had been brought for political reasons. An extradition would be a huge win for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi months before an election, after opposition parties said the government had given a “free passage” to Mallya to flee, an accusation it denies.
Modi has faced pressure from political opponents to bring to justice several people who have fled India in recent years to escape prosecution in an array of cases, many of them loan defaults.
“King of good times”
Mallya, nicknamed “the King of Good Times” after the slogan on bottles of one of his premium beers and his hard partying lifestyle, was arrested by British police in April 2017.
Monday’s ruling is unlikely to be the end of the long-running case. Mallya can appeal Arbuthnot's decision within 14 days to London’s High Court. The interior minister's decision can also be appealed to the High Court and ultimately the Supreme Court.
The Indian government said Kingfisher took out a series of loans from Indian banks, in particular the state-owned IDBI, with the aim of palming off huge losses which Mallya knew the failing airline was going to sustain.
It argued that Mallya had no intention of repaying money it borrowed from IDBI in 2009 and that the loans had been taken out under false pretences, on the basis of misleading securities and with the money spent differently to how the bank had been told.
Westminster Magistrates' Court was told Mallya had been “squirrelling money away to keep it from the bank”. However, his defense team said the Indian government had failed to provide any substantial evidence to justify extraditing him. His lawyer Clare Montgomery said Kingfisher had been open about what it needed the loans for and there had been no attempt to cover up losses.
She said the Indian authorities had relied on testimony from people who were not involved at the time of the loans and that they had failed to prove any false statements had been made.