Liquor baron Vijay Mallya on Wednesday claimed that he met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley before leaving the country in 2016 and offered to reach a settlement with banks. Mallya, who is accused of defrauding banks of over Rs 9,000 crore, made the statement after a hearing of his extradition case in the Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London.
“The statement is factually false in as much as it does not reflect truth,” Jaitley responded in a Facebook post. “Since 2014, I have never given him any appointment to meet me and the question of his having met me does not arise.”
However, the minister claimed that Mallya, who was a member of the Rajya Sabha, had “misused that privilege on one occasion” to walk up to him as he was leaving the House and had mentioned “an offer of settlement”.
“Having been fully briefed about his earlier ‘bluff offers’, without allowing him to proceed with the conversation, I curtly told him there was no point talking to me and he must make offers to his bankers. I did not even receive the papers that he was holding in his hand,” the minister added.
Hours after making the statement, Mallya clairified that he meant that he met Jaitley in Parliament and told him he was leaving for London. “I did not have any formal meetings scheduled with him,” Mallya told reporters.
He also rejected reports that said he was tipped off to leave the country. “I can confirm to you that nobody tipped me off. There was no need to run and the allegations are media created allegations,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mallya’s advocate on Wednesday challenged the Indian government’s contentions on the Rs 900 crore-loan that IDBI Bank had granted to the businessman. Clare Montgomery, the defence counsel, told the Westminster Magistrate’s Court that contrary to the government’s submission, the loan was not taken with the knowledge that it will not be repaid, The Hindu reported.
Montgomery said it was “quite obvious” that the loan was taken for running Kingfisher Airlines successfully. “It’s a pretty bizarre case the government of India is advancing,” Montgomery claimed. “Can a jury safely exclude this was an ordinary commercial loan that fails for ordinary commercial reasons?”
The prosecution told the court that Kingfisher Airlines misrepresented the facts about its performance when applying for loans, ANI reported. Montgomery rejected the contention that there was much difference between what Mallya and the bank knew on the financial health of the airline.
Mallya told reporters after the hearing that he “obviously” disagrees with the prosecution’s allegations, ANI reported. “Let the courts decide,” he added.
The court refused to replay the video of Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, where Mallya will be imprisoned if he is extradited to India. The judge said she had already seen the video three times, PTI reported.
However, the defence rubbished the video, claiming that the jail’s interiors had been freshly painted to give the impression of brightness. “The video clearly shows the gloom that settles on this building, which is encased in what is effectively a steel oven,” Montgomery said. “It is impossible to be satisfied about humane lighting and ventilation.”
The home ministry has submitted assurances on behalf of India that Mallya will not face any risk of violence, and submitted photographs showing facilities that would be available to him. But Montgomery claimed the video did not match with the photographs provided by Indian authorities earlier.
The defence also claimed that the Central Bureau of Investigation had been forced to file charges against Mallya. The court will pronounce its judgement in the case on December 10, ANI reported.
Mallya is wanted in India on charges of defrauding banks of more than Rs 9,000 crore. The businessman, who has been in the United Kingdom since March 2016, has said he will not return to the country. India’s Ministry of External Affairs submitted an extradition request to the UK in February 2017 after Mallya made his self-imposed exile clear. The request was made on the basis of an extradition treaty signed between the countries in 1992.
The extradition trial began at the London court on December 4. It is aimed at laying out a prima facie case of fraud against Mallya, reported PTI. It also seeks to prove there are no “bars to extradition” and that Mallya is assured a fair trial in India.
In July, the court had granted bail to Mallya after it asked Indian authorities to submit videos of the condition of Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail. Mallya’s defence team had raised several questions about the living conditions in the jail.
If the judge rules in favour of the Indian government, UK’s home secretary will have two months to sign Mallya’s extradition order. However, both sides can appeal in a higher court.
During a hearing in April, Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot had said that most of the evidence that the Central Bureau of Investigation has submitted against Mallya in the case will be admissible. The decision was seen as a boost for the investigating agency. In March, Arbuthnot had said it was “blindingly obvious” that Indian banks broke rules to give loans to Mallya’s now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines.