Fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya has stirred up a storm with his statement that he met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley before leaving the country in March 2016. Even as Jaitley has refuted Mallya’s claims by saying that “Mallya used his MP privilege to accost him” in Parliament, BJP’s Subramanian Swamy has unleashed an attack on the finance minister.
Mallya, who is wanted in India for a loan default worth Rs 9,000 crore, had left the country despite a ‘lookout circular’ against him at the country’s exit and entry points, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had said. The circular was issued at the request of CBI after the agency registered an FIR against Mallya, Kingfisher Airlines and others in October 2015. However, Mallya managed to leave the country despite the notice and this has now raised suspicion over central government’s role in his easy escape.
The CBI issues lookout circulars (LOCs) to alert immigration authorities to prevent “any absconding criminal or person required by enforcement authorities” from leaving the country. The circulars stay active for a year after which they can be extended on merits.
According to a Hindustan Times report, more than a dozen state-run banks — led by the State Bank of India (SBI) — had appealed to the Supreme Court asking that Mallya be banned from travelling overseas. The banks had moved a DRT (Debt Recovery Tribunal) for freezing Mallya’s passport and stopping him from the leaving country on 2 March, 2016, says report, but Mallya fled the country the same day itself.
The CBI had that its first lookout circular (vide DPBSM/2015/724/RCNSM 2015 E 0006) against the liquor baron, file on 16 October 2015, was an “inadvertent error”. The circular had asked immigration authorities to detain Mallya and report the same to CBI.
“We followed all legal requirements. A lookout notice was issued against him to ensure that we have prior information on his attempts to travel abroad. There are strong reasons to believe that he had made foreign visits on previous occasions as well after the agency registered the case,” the top investigation agency had said, as reported by The Hindu.
However, a second lookout circular (vide letter number 1049/RCBSM/2015/E0006) was then issued on CBI’s request, on 24 November 2015, asking immigration authorities to merely inform the agency about Mallya’s arrival at the airport. And interestingly, Mallya arrived back in the country the same day.
“We sent a letter to the Bureau of Immigration on 12 October that Mallya was wanted for questioning in connection with a CBI case. In the lookout circular proforma, which was sent to the authorities, our Mumbai office inadvertently ticked the box meant for detaining the subject, whereas we only wanted information about his movement. The error was corrected in the next circular,” CBI spokesperson Devpreet Singh told The Indian Express.
A PTI report quoted CBI sources as saying that the agency did not try to stop Mallya’s movement abroad as he had been cooperating in the investigation by presenting himself for questioning as and when required and also providing required documents. The PTI report also pointed out that, according to a Supreme Court, judgement passport of a person can only be impounded when he/she has been charged or a trial is pending against them.
But, this U-turn of CBI has given the Opposition parties a chance to accuse the government of being party to the “criminal conspiracy” that helped Mallya flee from the country and thus escape trial by court. Meanwhile, BJP’s national executive member Subramanian Swamy has grabbed on the chance to revive his old rivalry with Union Minister Arun Jaitley.