Two years after debt-burdened industrialist Vijay Mallya fled India for the United Kingdom, fresh questions on how he managed to escape have been raised by sections of the media. On March 2, 2016, Mallya flew to London from Delhi, and then refused to return to India to faces charges related to the more than Rs 9,000 crore he owed Indian banks. That he was allowed to leave the country was remarkable given the quantum of his loans. Fingers are now being pointed to grave lapses within the Union government as well as the public sector State Bank of India, his largest creditor.
Why didn’t Jaitley speak up?
On Wednesday, Mallya set off a controversy by claiming that he had met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley just before leaving India and offered to settle his debts before he left. Mallya even claimed that he told Jaitley he was leaving for London. Jaitley denied that they had a meeting, claiming that Mallya had “misused his privilege” as a member of the Rajya Sabha and accosted him in Parliament with an offer to settle. The finance minister said that he asked Mallya to talk instead to his creditors.
In the Telegraph, however, Anit Joshua pointed out that Jaitley, curiously, did not share information of this encounter till he was forced to by Mallya This, despite the fact that he had a number of opportunities to do so. On March 10, 2016, eight days after Mallya had fled India, Jaitley spoke in Parliament but did not mention anything about an encounter with the industrialist. On March 14, 2016, the Congress was more blunt. It released a statement that directly questioned if Prime Minister Narendra Modi was aware of any meeting between Mallya and Jaitley, asking for “the complete details of this meeting and conversation be shared with Parliament and people of India”. Jaitley did not speak up then either.
Even more troubling is Mallya’s claims that he informed Jaitley that he was going to London. If this is true – and Jaitley is yet to offer a denial – then it raised troubling questions about why Jaitley did nothing to stop Mallya by using the powers of the Union finance ministry and the Union government at his disposal.
On March 10, 2016, after Jaitley spoke in Parliament, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh spoke, pointing at a delay by banks in moving legally against Mallya. Ramesh argued that bankers to whom Mallya owed money were advised by lawyers on February 28, 2016, to move court the next day to prevent Mallya from exiting India. However, the banks waited till March 5 to file a case – three days after Mallya had flown out.
Two years later, Dushyant Dave, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court, backed Ramesh’s narrative. Dave said that a meeting between State Bank of India officials and lawyers took place in his home in New Delhi on February 28. Bankers presciently feared that Mallya was about to flee India. Dave claimed he advised the bankers to take urgent action and move the Supreme Court the next day, February 29. But when Dave reached court the next day, there were no State Bank of India officials there. “I have no doubt something happened after I gave my advice,” Dave told India Today.
Who diluted the CBI notice?
However, even before this delay by the State Bank of India was the curious case of the Central Bureau of Investigation diluting its lookout notice for Mallya. In October, 2015, the central agency asked the Bureau of Immigration to detain Mallya should he attempt to exit the country. However, in a month, the Central Bureau of Investigation changed its mind. Instead, it instructed the Bureau of Immigration to simply inform it if Mallya was entering or exiting India. This change allowed Mallya to leave in 2016.
An investigation by NDTV has revealed that the decision to change the lookout notice was taken without the permission of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s chief. The change was instead authorised by a joint director, AK Sharma – even though this is against the rules since a joint director can take decisions only in scams where the value extends up to Rs 60 crore.
AK Sharma is from the Gujarat cadre and is seen to be close to Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah.