There’s a difference between something that is secret and another that may be inappropriate, legally impermissible even, to say publicly. The present position of Vijay Mallya within Britain is clear; it’s another matter, and a legal one, that the UK government cannot say so publicly.
The position, as reported first by CNBC-TV 18 and subsequently by The Guardian, is clear. After losing out on every legal recourse to resist extradition to India, Vijay Mallya applied for political asylum. The likelihood that he may eventually get asylum is extremely slim, to put it politely. But the application, and the processing of that application, win him time.
British deputy high commissioner in New Delhi restated the UK government position this week: “I think you are probably aware because we’ve said it a number of times, there is a further legal issue that needs resolving before we would be in a position to extradite Mallya. Extradition can't take place unless that particular legal issue can be resolved...we are trying to resolve the issue as quickly as we can.”
The British high commission has undoubtedly said this a number of times. In June this year, it said a “ legal matter” had arisen that was “confidential.” The high commission said the UK government was seeking to “deal with this as quickly as possible.” But it added: “We cannot estimate how long this issue will take to resolve.”
In July British high commissioner to India, Philip Barton said he “can’t say anything at all about timescales.” But, significantly, he underlined that Britain was backing the Indian government. “We are all determined to play our part in any case, and to make sure that we’re working together to ensure that criminals can’t escape justice by crossing national borders.”
There is a reason that UK officials cannot comment on the time-scale here. An application for asylum must be dealt with by due procedures. Those include processing by the Home Office but with a legal recourse thrown in by way of what are known as Tier One and Tier Two appeals. The process is known to take at least six months, but can often be stretched into years.
New Pressure from India
Mallya lost his final appeal in the extradition process on April 20 when the High Court denied leave to him to appeal to the UK Supreme Court against extradition. Now that it’s been more than six months India has made a renewed push for extradition. This it did emphatically through the visit last week of Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
Shringla told media representatives that he had raised the extradition of both Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi with British Home Secretary Priti Patel. He said he “strongly underlined” India’s interest in seeing “early, expeditious extradition of Vijay Mallya.” India he said, had told the UK government that it wanted Mallya back “as soon as possible." As the diplomatic language goes, this is the language of extreme pressure.
The inevitable question, that CNBC-TV put to Shringla, was whether the UK government had offered any commitment in response. Shringla said British ministers had taken close and careful note of the concern raised by India. That was carefully said, but again translated into plain language it suggests that British leaders intend to do their most, and fast.
There are limits to what the government can do with a matter that lies in legal appeal—and Mallya is certain to have launched an appeal against a Home Office decision. But that still does not make the UK government a helpless spectator to the appeal process. The government cannot decide an appeal but it can speed up the process by which it is heard and a decision taken.
Priti Patel has made it clear that the government is doing just that, as again reported first by CNBC-TV18. This is through a process that is not just about Mallya but would include this case. She announced last month that the government is determined to fix a “fundamentally broken” asylum system. That commitment at the annual party conference came within the context of a growing number of people crossing over into Britain and then seeking asylum.
Patel said changes to law and legal processes would take time but that she would “accelerate the UK’s operational response in the meantime.” The UK government, she was emphatic, would work to expedite the removal of those with “no claim for protection.”
Such acceleration of process is hardly likely to leave out the Mallya file—that sits undoubtedly high on the government list. Given the promised acceleration in asylum applications, Shringla made it clear to the UK government that India needs it to push down on the pedal over Mallya a good deal faster than it is doing.
—London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
Read his columns here
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)
First Published: IST