Kingfisher promoter an billionaire Vijay Mallya, whose deportation is being sought by India to face charges of fraud and money laundering of around Rs 9,000 crore, can be regarded as a "fugitive from justice", the UK High Court has concluded.
Judge Andrew Henshaw, who ruled in favour of 13 Indian state-owned banks to recover funds amounting to nearly £1.145 billion in a judgment on Tuesday, noted that the 62-year-old businessman is contesting his extradition to India relating to "alleged financial misconduct" (See: Indian banks win Rs10,000 cr lawsuit against Mallya in UK
"In all these circumstances, and even taking account of the fact that Dr. Mallya is contesting the alleged grounds for extradition, there are grounds for regarding Dr. Mallya as a fugitive from justice," the judge said in the ruling.
The judge did not accept Mallya's claim of having been a non-resident Indian since 1988 and that he had lived in England since 1992, where he has an 'indefinite leave to remain' (ILR).
An Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) which is also called a Permanent Residency (PR) is a document that proves its holder has been granted with the immigration status after he / she has lived in the United Kingdom for a specific period of time under a temporary visa, and have shown commitment to the UK. The immigration status is granted only to individuals with no right of abode in the United Kingdom
He ruled, "The evidence indicates that prior to March 2016, Dr. Mallya travelled fairly regularly between India and England for business and political reasons. Most of his business interests were in or closely connected with India, most notably United Breweries Group and Kingfisher Airlines. Whilst Dr. Mallya has indefinite leave to stay in the UK, he is said to be a non-resident taxpayer," the court observed.
Judge Henshaw concluded that Mallya had been in "clear breach" of the Karnataka Higfh Court order while disposing of assets like the historic sword of Tipu Sultan, which he had acquired at an auction in 2003.
"The sword of Tipu Sultan is an item of historic importance which Dr. Mallya bought at an auction in 2003 for the equivalent of £188,400 and states that he gave it away in 2016 as his family members considered that it was bringing him bad luck," the judge noted..
"Dr. Mallya declined to state in correspondence to whom the sword was given. Dr. Mallya was unable to put forward any basis for contending that the disposal was not in breach of the Karnataka High Court's interim injunction, and accepted that it occurred after the Supreme Court had made clear that the injunction covered subsequently acquired assets. It does, though, appear to me to have been in clear breach of the Karnataka court's order," he adds.
The ruling by the UK court has been described as "significant" by TLT LLP, the UK law firm which represented the Indian banks in the case.
"This is a positive and big step forward. The judgement enables our client banks to proceed with enforcement of the Indian Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) ruling, which has now been registered and is immediately enforceable," said Paul Gair, partner in TLT's Banking & Financial Services litigation team.
"We are considering all of our options with our clients the worldwide freezing order has worldwide effect, so it's all of his assets wherever they may be. There are provisions for his weekly allowance, within which he can meet his needs," he added.
Mallya, who has been on bail since his arrest on an extradition warrant in April last year, will return for the conclusion of his ongoing extradition trial at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London on 11 July, after which the court is expected to set a timeline for judgment in that case.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), representing the Indian government, has claimed it has successfully established a prima facie case of fraud against the businessman.
Mallya has claimed the criminal charges against him are "without substance" and "politically motivated".