The Indian government has won the extradition case against fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya, but it did not win extradition. The asylum track Mallya’s lawyers set him on after losing out on extradition now appears to have worked for him and blocked his return.
Vijay Mallya has found the confidence to progress from party mood to party mode in London. The first he’s always had, he’s now switched to the second with a new found confidence that no government, no court in London or Delhi, can order him back to India.
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Mallya’s confidence is not backed by any official announcement. There may never be one — such is the legal maze through which Mallya’s team of lawyers has found what seemed an impossible way out. It’s a pathway out of a lost case that has stunned the legal world in London perhaps more than any other. And it is of course a blow from a freak direction to the Indian government after they thought they had Mallya finally.
The Indian government won the extradition case, but it did not win extradition.
The asylum track Mallya’s lawyers set him on after losing out on extradition now appears to have worked for him and blocked his return. On this second track, officials have been very quiet. The last word to come openly and authoritatively was the court order in April 2020 confirming extradition. Mallya lost that case and the appeals process through it to the very end. The extradition courts had spoken the last word.
But that order was final only so far as the extradition process went. Then followed an application for asylum. The extradition process had been one legal track, the asylum route was another. The two laws do not speak to one another, most conveniently for Mallya as it turned out. His lawyers recognised that difference and used it.
This was a hidden card up Mallya’s sleeve for long. His team of lawyers simply tapped the second route after Mallya was brought to a dead end on the first. The UK government could do, and say nothing.
In the face of persistent questions, British officials and leaders have said since April 2020 that a confidential matter has arisen and that their government is doing what it can to resolve it. That position has been repeated several times; officials could hardly have done otherwise. Under the law, an asylum application must be kept confidential. So must its outcome through the courts.
In the first instance on that asylum track, the Home Office in London refused Mallya’s application, and then turned down also his appeal within the Home Office itself over its decision, according to well-placed sources. Mallya then went in appeal to the courts, through a Tier 1 and then Tier 2 tribunal.
The last hearing in that process ruled in his favour, according to these sources. It came after tapes were played in the court in defence of Mallya to make the claim that he had reason to fear persecution by top people in government and also media were he to be sent back to India. The verdict of the court carried a clause of confidentiality, the sources say. That continues to bar the UK government from making a statement on any outcome.
So the official position remains — and is almost certain to remain indefinitely – that the UK government cannot comment on a legal issue. With one incidental difference. The Home Office said earlier that it cannot comment, now it refuses to say anything at all. So the final position is that the UK government says nothing, and the Indian government only that it has assurances from the UK government. These bland statements have gone on and on, and are due to go on and on, when the question of Mallya’s return is raised. And over time the question will inevitably get asked less and less.
This status quo of repeated statements that say nothing looks set now to continue for the remainder of Vijay Mallya’s lifetime. Which is likely to be in Britain now — and not in any case in India.
Only Mallya could say publicly that he has effectively won the right to stay on in Britain indefinitely — if he so chooses. If he says nothing openly, no one else does, or can.
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This status quo suits the British government in ways. The UK is post-Brexit more keen than ever to attract billionaires and their billions through its investment visa schemes. It would be bad optics in such a scenario for one of the most public of such arrivals to be seen being sent back in handcuffs. Not an attractive advertisement to invite other fleeing billionaires to Britain.
It of course suits Mallya even if he has lost all his business and assets in India as a consequence of his flight to Britain. He has lost his assets in India, most substantially over recent weeks after banks stepped in to take over shares. He faces a worldwide freezing order on his assets — though the banks have argued in courts that much remains too hidden to have been effectively frozen.
A bankruptcy order passed against him last month means that the banks can now go after his assets. Mallya is legally bound to cooperate with that process, though he will no doubt continue to find legal ways to stall that too.
Beating the legal system in both India and Britain looks like Mallya’s last triumph. It brings the business empire his father built to a twisted end. Mallya’s business epitaph will mark him as the one who ended, not the one who built.
In this last phase, he is no doubt comfortable. For now, and at the visible least, he has upwards of 20,000 pounds a week to live on that he finds too little but that he can nevertheless live rather well on even if he really has just that. He’s with his family, and they should be comfortable — he has paid several millions of dollars into family trusts. His son’s ambitions in Hollywood and Bollywood seem to be going nowhere but he will no doubt have enough to live on.
All this is a lot better than Barrack 12 in Arthur Road in Mumbai, however smartly spruced up it was just for him. In making sure those efforts over him were wasted, Mallya can boast that he proved smarter than the smartest around him could ever have guessed. To him, that boast is worth a billion dollars and more. He doesn’t have to boast in so many words, just turning up at a party in London as a sought-after guest, and to do that the rest of his days, says it all.
The losers in all this are the Indian taxpayer and those Kingfisher employees. But when did they ever count for much?
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)