The Westminster Magistrate’s Court in the UK today accepted almost all the evidence submitted by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation in the Vijay Mallya extradition case.
An attempt by the defence team of the beleaguered businessman to have much of the evidence presented by India dismissed, suffered a setback as the judge ruled that most of the evidence produced thus far in the case would be admissible, save for an email conversation covered by legal professional privilege (LPP).
Judge Emma Arbuthnot, who had in a previous hearing indicated that this was likely to be the case, ruled that “everything” aside from the LPP email would be taken into account, and that she would reserve judgement on this latter issue.
The next date of hearing was fixed as 11 July. When the court reconvenes, oral submissions will be made on closing arguments to be submitted in writing to Judge Arbuthnot over the next two months.
Mallya was back in court for the hearing today. The 62-year-old, who is wanted in India to face charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around Rs9,000 crore, is currently on a £650,000 bail since his arrest on an extradition warrant by Scotland Yard in April last year.
At the last hearing in the case on 16 March, the judge had noted that it was "blindingly obvious" that rules were broken by Indian banks which sanctioned some of the loans to the defunct Kingfisher Airlines owned by Mallya.
At the end of that hearing, the judge had indicated her decision on the admissibility of evidence would go in favour of admitting some material and excluding some affidavits, which she said did not pertain to the prima facie case of fraud.
This ruling, which will be welcomed by Indian authorities in the overall progression of the case, came during a hearing in which the defence appeared to be pushing for more time through a request for a further hearing at which both sides could put across their closing arguments.
Defence barrister Ben Watson pushed for the hearing despite the judge’s questioning its utility.
“You want a hearing for the press,” Judge Arbuthnot declared as Watson pushed for a “constructive exercise” that was needed in the wake of the “significant public interest” in the case.
A final hearing in July was agreed upon, with both sides set to present further details, including from the Indian side signed attestations from the compiling official of the evidence.
Speaking outside the courtroom after the hearing, Mallya denied suggestions that his legal team was attempting to stall proceedings, pointing to the fact that when attempting to settle upon a date for the final hearing, his team had pushed for a July date rather than one in September that was suggested by the prosecution.
During the hearing it emerged that the prosecution had introduced further evidence relating to the role and disproportional assets of B K Batra, a former Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) official who was arrested last year. “If you are looking for a motive this is an answer,” prosecution lead barrister Mark Summers said, adding it was up to the judge how much weight was given to the new testimony.
The judge dubbed the role of Batra, as presented in the prosecution case, as that of a “villain”.
The defence also introduced further testimony from witness and prison expert Alan Mitchell, contesting the prison conditions that India had offered assurances on, in response to the judge’s request. While Summers insisted they had addressed the judge’s concerns, Watson said there were “real issues” with the veracity of the material supplied. “They don’t present a true fair and accurate picture,” he insisted, pointing to one image meant to highlight amount of natural sunlight, but which appeared to have a discrepancy in it.
After previous hearings when the quality of the documentation from India and the nature of its presentation faced questions, the judge appeared much more content on this count. She described as “very helpful” both a detailed note on the conspiracy charges facing Mallya should he be extradited to India, as well as a schedule of notional charges. “The most helpful thing I’ve found is the conspiracy note which clearly sets out the inferences and the real weight of the inferences,” she told the court.
The prosecution will have a further six weeks to present further details, and the defence another four weeks to respond.