Hard times are in store for the King of Good Times. The UK has finally ordered the extradition of business tycoon Vijay Mallya, who is accused of defrauding banks and laundering money to the tune of Rs 9,000 crore. The development is a shot in the arm for India’s diplomatic efforts to bring back the high-profile fugitive. Mallya still has a lifeline — he can file an appeal with the UK High Court against the Home Secretary’s order — but it’s clear that he is running out of legal options.
In December last year, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court had ordered the liquor baron’s extradition after being convinced by India’s assurance on the suitability of Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail for his incarceration. As and when that happens, the breakthrough will help Britain contest the notorious tag of being a ‘haven for richie-rich offenders’. Facing pressure from India and other countries, the UK had late last year decided to suspend the ‘golden visa’ scheme under which an investment of £5-10 million was enough to secure permanent residency, never mind the investor’s dubious credentials. However, the move was controversially put on hold.
The two countries had signed an extradition treaty back in 1993, but India has so far been successful in bringing back only one person — Samirbhai Vinubhai Patel, an accused in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The poor track record has been attributed to the Indian law enforcement agencies’ apparent failure to make the cases watertight and the UK government’s alleged laxity. There are a few big fish who have taken refuge there over the years, including IPL founder Lalit Modi. In 2013, India had come tantalisingly close to extraditing retired naval officer Ravi Shankaran, who is suspected of involvement in the naval war room leak case. However, a year later, the England and Wales High Court upheld his appeal against the lower court’s verdict, while raising doubts about the CBI’s evidence. Hopefully, the same won’t happen in Mallya’s case. Well and truly in the election mode, the Modi government is expected to go the whole hog to take the matter to its logical conclusion.