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Mallya held in UK, gets bail

LONDON

Liquor baron Vijay Mallya got bail from the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in central London on Tuesday within hours after his arrest by the Extradition Unit of Scotland Yard. India has filed a request for extradition of Mallya for defrauding Indian banks of over Rs 80 billion.

Indian officials, on condition of anonymity, said “the process will now intensify” to extradite the liquor baron. “There are coordinated activities of several Indian departments with their British counterparts to make Mallya face charges back in India,” an official said. The charges against Mallya include money laundering.

Mallya’s extradition was a hot topic on the agenda when British Prime Minister Theresa May visited India in November 2016. As a former Home Secretary, May is aware about the case and her stand on fraud and money laundering is likely to create hurdles for Mallya’s stay in London without facing charges.

Mallya is among several Indian citizens wanted for alleged offences in India, but so far there has been only one extradition since a treaty was signed with the UK in September 1992. Samirbhai Vinubhai Patel was extradited in October 2016 in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots.

According to the British extradition procedure, India’s request was certified by British Home Secretary Amber Rudd on February 21 and sent to the Westminster Magistrate’s court for issuing a warrant of arrest, which was executed on Tuesday.

Home Secretary Rudd has taken several initiative to make London clean of financial crimes like fraud, money laundering and corruption. She is taking a tough stance on cases related to financial crimes.

The news of Mallya’s arrest and his appearance in court was the second most tweeted story in London after the snap election called by Prime Minister May for June 8.

A press statement by the London Metropolitan Police said: “Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Extradition Unit, this morning, Tuesday April 19, arrested a man on an extraction warrant. Vijay Mallya, 61, was arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities in relation to accusations of fraud. He was arrested after attending a central London police station, and will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court later.”

After getting bail, Mallya tweeted: “Usual Indian media hype. Extradition hearing in court started today as expected.”

Mallya fled to Britain in March 2016 after being pursued in courts by Indian banks seeking to recover Rs 81.9 billion owed by his now defunct Kingfisher Airline.

The banks had been able to recover only Rs 1.6 billion. Despite multiple injunctions, Mallya failed to appear before investigators — and then flew out of India.

In February, the Indian government handed over to the UK authorities a formal request for Mallya’s extradition, saying it had a legitimate case against him on charges of financial irregularities and loan default.

Meanwhile, the Indian government said the legal process for his extradition was underway in Britain.

Responding to a query, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said Mallya’s arrest in London was in connection with the request by India to British authorities for his extradition

“Legal process in this regard is underway in the UK,” Baglay said. “The two governments are in touch in this context.”

The Westminster Magistrates’ Court gave him bail on a 650,000-pound bond. The next hearing of the case will be on May 17.

Mallya, known for his lavish lifestyle, made Kingfisher beer a global brand and ran a now-defunct airline with the same name.

He stepped down as the director of the Indian Premier League cricket team Royal Challengers Bangalore last year but still owns the Barbados Tridents in the Caribbean Premier League.

In February, the Indian government said it was considering new measures to seize the assets of “big time offenders” who fled abroad. That same month Mallya was sacked from the board of United Breweries, the firm through which he once controlled his business empire.

– ‘King of Good Times’ – Mallya’s financial dealings are being investigated by the federal Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate, a financial crimes agency.

An Indian court in January ordered a consortium of banks to start the process of recovering loans from the tycoon.

Mallya was once known as the “King of Good Times” but dropped off India’s most wealthy list in 2014, engulfed by the massive debts of his grounded carrier Kingfisher Airlines.

His huge debt has come to symbolise the problems which bad loans pose to Indian banks and to overall financial stability in Asia’s third-largest economy.

Critics say the government has not done enough to tackle the issue of wealthy individuals such as Mallya, who obtain huge loans which they later fail to repay.

Mallya inherited United Breweries Group from his father at the age of 28 and turned it into one of the world’s largest spirits makers, hosting extravagant yacht parties with Bollywood stars and politicians along the way.

His profile rose further when he acquired a stake in the Force India F1 team and ownership of the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

But his fall from grace was spectacular.

The businessman was forced to quit as a member of India’s parliament last year after an upper house ethics committee recommended his expulsion.

His diplomatic passport was revoked in April last year after he repeatedly failed to appear before investigators.

Agencies