London: Beleaguered liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya has claimed that he is victim of a witch-hunt based on a ‘false’ case against him after the UK High Court granted him permission to appeal against his extradition order.
The 63-year-old former Kingfisher Airlines boss, wanted in India to face alleged fraud and money laundering charges amounting to Rs 9,000 crores, won a reprieve when a two-judge bench at the Royal Courts of Justice in London Tuesday concluded that ‘arguments can be reasonably made’ on some aspects of the prima facie case put forward by the Indian government.
“After all the mockery made of me, I would respectfully ask those interested parties to focus on the Divisional Bench Judgement in England, allowing me to challenge the core of the false prima facie case filed against me by the CBI. Witch-hunt?” Mallya tweeted.
“Despite the good court result for me, I once again repeat my offer to pay back the Banks that lent money to Kingfisher Airlines in full. Please take the money. With the balance, I also want to pay employees and other creditors and move on in life,” he said, adding that justice had prevailed in his favour.
In their ruling, Justices George Leggatt and Andrew Popplewell accepted that there was ‘substantial ground’ to review if Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot was wrong to conclude that the Indian government had established a prima facie case of fraud against Mallya when she ordered his extradition last December.
The High Court judges noted that some of the lower court’s findings may have been on allegations that the defence had not had a ‘chance to answer’.
The case will now proceed to a full appeal hearing during which Mallya’s defence team will argue that Arbuthnot had relied upon material beyond the scope of their defence and also question the admissibility of some witness statements submitted by the Central Bureau of Investigation and produced by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on behalf of the Indian government.
“The quality of evidence produced by India continues to remain a matter of concern. In response to the argument by Mallya’s attorney that the documents and witnesses produced by the CPS should be inadmissible under Section 84, the court once again pointed at poor quality of evidence produced by India,” noted Pavani Reddy, Managing Partner at Zaiwalla & Co. law firm in the UK.
“As the case now proceeds to a full-stage hearing in the High Court, it will cause a significant delay in Mallya’s extradition, further draining Indian government’s resources. The appeal process may take few months,” she said.
Mallya’s barrister, Clare Montgomery, had raised five separate grounds to challenge the Westminster Magistrates’ Court extradition order as well as challenged UK home secretary Sajid Javid’s sign off on it in February.
However, the judges dismissed each of the other grounds, including extraneous circumstances such as undue political pressure from the Indian government and adverse prison conditions at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, and found that Javid had not erred in his decision under the India-UK Extradition Treaty.
Past extradition cases of underworld don Abu Salem from Portugal to India as well as alleged bookie Sanjeev Chawla’s pending extradition were referenced during the High Court hearing in an attempt to establish a precedence that Indian government assurances could not be relied upon.
However, the judges categorically stated that there was ‘nothing capable of undermining’ the basis on which Judge Arbuthnot was satisfied with assurances given the Indian government that it would comply by the Extradition Treaty arrangements.
Meanwhile, Mallya will remain on bail on an extradition warrant executed in April 2017 and await a timeframe for his High Court appeal to progress to the hearing stage, expected in a few months’ time.