UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to embark on a state visit to India this week and while free trade agreement negotiations and the response to the war in Ukraine are likely to dominate bilateral talks, the pending extraditions of fugitive businessmen Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi are likely to be raised by the Indian side.
India had raised the issue in a virtual summit with the UK last year as well when Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted categorically that economic offenders should be sent back to face trial in India at the earliest.
Who are Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi?
Vijay Mallya: Once hailed as India’s version of British tycoon Richard Branson for his investments in a brewing and liquor company, an airline, a Formula One team and an Indian Premier League cricket club, Vijay Mallya ran into trouble when he failed to return millions in loans and left India in 2016 amid attempts by a group of banks to recover the money.
The failure of Kingfisher Airlines, which he launched in 2005, began Mallya’s slippery slide into debt and triggered the collapse of several of his businesses. The Indian government in 2012 suspended the airline’s licence after it failed to pay pilots and engineers for months.
Nirav Modi: The son of a diamond merchant, Nirav Modi built an international jewelry empire that stretched from India to New York and Hong Kong. Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra became the face of his eponymous brand and Hollywood actress Naomi Watts appeared with him at the opening of his first US boutique in 2015.
Forbes magazine estimated Modi’s wealth at $1.8 billion in 2017, but he was removed from the publication’s billionaires’ list after he was accused of $1.8 billion bank fraud. He had fled India before the details of his alleged fraud became public in 2018.
What are the Charges Against Them?
Vijay Mallya: The ‘King of Good Times’, as he was known in his better days, Mallya is wanted in India on charges of money laundering and bank demands that he pay back more than a billion dollars in loans extended to his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines.
The Central Bureau of Investigation had charged the beleaguered tycoon with cheating and conspiracy for defaulting on a Rs 9 billion loan, given in 2009. The loan was intended to buy aircraft parts, but Mallya was accused of having transferred it abroad. He was arrested in London in April 2017, but remains out on bail since then.
Nirav Modi: India has sought Nirav Modi’s arrest since February 2018, when authorities alleged that the companies he controlled defrauded the state-owned Punjab National Bank by using fake financial documents to get loans to buy and import jewels. Modi is also accused of witness intimidation and destroying evidence.
Raids at the homes and offices of Modi and his business partner Mehul Choksi in India had led to the seizure of nearly $800 million in jewels and gold. The diamond tycoon was arrested in Britain in March 2019 and has been in custody since then.
Where are They in UK?
Vijay Mallya: The liquor baron owns several residences in the UK, but is believed to be predominantly using his Ladywalk mansion in the Hertfordshire village of Tewin, some 40km outside of London.
According to a Press Trust of India report this January, he faces the prospect of bailiffs knocking on the doors of one of his luxury London homes, the 18/19 Cornwall Terrace property, after a British court ruled that Swiss Bank UBS, pursuing its unpaid dues, can take charge of the high value property.
The 18/19 Cornwall Terrace property, which is located in one of central London’s prime hubs of Regent’s Park near Madame Tussauds wax museum, is of such high value that the court only referred to it as being worth “many tens of millions of pounds”. Mallya’s 95-year-old mother is said to be the current resident at the property.
Nirav Modi: The fugitive diamond merchant remains behind bars at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London since his arrest in March 2019. As of October 2020, his bail plea had been rejected for the seventh time.
What is the Status of Their Extradition?
Vijay Mallya: Mallya’s legal challenge to the Indian government’s extradition request was turned down at the Supreme Court level in the UK in 2020. But the businessman remains in Britain on bail until UK Home Secretary Priti Patel signs off on the order for him to be extradited to India.
The UK Home Office has so far only confirmed on background that a confidential legal process remains ongoing before the extradition request, signed by the Home Secretary on February 3, 2019, can be certified and executed.
This had raised widespread speculation that Mallya had sought asylum in the UK, details of which are neither confirmed nor denied by the Home Office in Britain while an application is pending.
Nirav Modi: Britain had approved Modi’s extradition to India in April 2021, but the businessman appealed against this on the grounds that his mental health is such that he is a suicide risk. His lawyer Edward Fitzgerald told the High Court in London that Modi faces a “substantial risk” of suicide amid an “overwhelming” impact of Covid-19 at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai. The issue was last heard on December 14. If Nirav Modi loses his appeal, he could still seek reviews at either the UK’s Supreme Court, or the European Court of Human Rights.
What is Their Defence?
Vijay Mallya: In his appeal, Mallya’s legal team had argued that the 2018 extradition ruling did not take into account all the evidence about the financial status of Kingfisher Airlines.
“This is not a Ponzi scheme – this is an airline,” Mallya’s lawyer Clare Montgomery had said, adding that in seeking the loan to rescue his struggling airline he was not trying to “make a quick buck” and that the collapse was an ordinary business failure. “Dr Mallya is not a fly-by-night figure,” she had said.
In 2018, Judge Emma Arbuthnot’s extradition order rejected Mallya’s argument that the case was motivated by political considerations, that he would not receive a fair trial in India and that extradition would infringe his human rights.
Nirav Modi: In his appeal against the extradition order, Modi’s legal cited mental health and human rights grounds. “He is at high risk of suicide already and his condition is likely to deteriorate further in Mumbai,” his lawyer argued.
Nirav Modi’s “high risk of suicide” and the “adequacy of any measures capable of preventing successful suicide attempts in Arthur Road prison” were deemed as the focal points for the appeal.
His legal team has sought to establish that it would be oppressive to extradite him due to his mental condition that could lead to suicidal impulses, given the family history of suicide of his mother, and that he is at risk of “flagrant denial of justice” in India. The lawyers also claimed the Covid-19 pandemic is “overwhelming” the Indian prison system.
With agency inputs