Given how economic offenders like Vijay Mallya have managed to subvert the law in India by fleeing abroad, the proposed law that talks of confiscating even such properties that are not proceeds of an economic offence or haven’t been attached by the courts is a step in the right direction. The fact that the draft Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill will supersede all existing laws on economic offences shows how seriously the government is viewing Mallya-style undermining of the Indian courts. The Bill treats both those who fled after the issue of an arrest warrant to avoid prosecution for economic crimes and those who fled in anticipation and refuse to return as fugitive offenders. This means even former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi, who fled before the filing of cases against him, can face action. It prohibits the accused and any associated company or business concern where he holds a key position from filing civil claims. For the purpose of designating a person as a fugitive economic offender, the Bill envisages the creation of special courts under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. All the same, proceedings under this law will cease if the accused returns to India and surrenders in front of the appropriate jurisdictional court.
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Given how extradition—especially from the West—has proved notoriously difficult with India’s request often turned down, such a law makes eminent sense. Whether the Bill proves to be an effective deterrent, though, depends on the offender owning significant property in India. There is little that can be done if most of the proceeds from an economic crime have been shifted offshore and the accused’s property in India is of no significant value—which is why it is also crucial for India to work on more facilitative agreements with nations that economic offenders typically flee to.