In a setback for UB Group chairman Vijay Mallya, the Supreme Court on Monday dismissed his plea seeking quashing of criminal proceedings against him in a 16-year-old case pertaining to violation of foreign exchange rules. The bench also imposed R10 lakh as costs on Mallya in the case.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which had initiated the case, is now free to resume its criminal proceedings for violating the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) while arranging funds for advertising his liquor products abroad almost two decades ago.
A bench comprising justices J Chelameswar and Adarsh Kumar Goel upheld the Delhi High Court’s 2007 judgment that turned down Mallya’s plea seeking quashing of criminal proceedings in a trial court for alleged ‘wilful’ disobedience of summons issued by the ED over 15 years ago.
The apex court while imposing exemplary cost of R10 lakh to be paid to the Supreme Court legal service authority said: “We do not see any merit in the appeal. We are also of the opinion that the entire approach adopted by the appellant (Mallya) is a sheer abuse of the process of law. Any other view of the matter would only go to once again establishing the notorious truth stated by Anatole France that ‘the law in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread’.”
Commenting on Mallya’s attempts to seek adjournments by seeking dates as per his convenience, the judges said that “it appears that it was not a case of mere seeking accommodation by the appellant but requiring date to be fixed by his convenience. Such stand by a person facing allegation of serious nature could hardly be appreciated.
Obviously, the enormous money power makes him believe the state should adjust its affairs to suit his commercial convenience.”
The ED wanted to interrogate him in connection with a contract signed in December 1995 with London-based firm Benetton Formula for promoting his Kingfisher liquor brand abroad. Mallya had allegedly paid $200,000 to the British company for displaying Kingfisher beer logo in the Formula One World Championships to be held in London and some European countries in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The money was allegedly paid without prior approval from the Reserve Bank of India in violation of FERA.
Mallya had contended that the adjudicating officer of the ED in its order dated January 10, 2002, had fully exonerated both Mallya and his company of any material breach of FERA provisions. Besides, he was abroad at the time of serving of summons, which was evident from his passport.