The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday cleared a Bill to attach assets of fugitive economic offenders — including Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallya who flee India to escape the reach of law — even without conviction.
The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday cleared a Bill to attach assets of fugitive economic offenders — including Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallya who flee India to escape the reach of law — even without conviction. The financial limit for invoking the provisions of the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill (FEOB) is Rs 100 crore.
Since the Lok Sabha already passed this Bill in the previous week, it now requires the Presidential assent before it can be made into a law and replace an ordinance that was promulgated in April.
While the existing Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) has provisions for confiscation of an offender’s assets, it can be done only after his conviction, and the attachment is also limited to the proceeds of crime. However, this Bill provides for attachment of all the assets of offenders, irrespective of whether these are the proceeds of crime or not.
Finance minister Piyush Goyal said: “This Bill is an effective, expeditious and constitutional way to stop these offenders from running away. Legislative changes or a new law must be in place to confiscate assets of such absconders till they don’t present themselves in front of courts.”
He added that unless an absconder comes back, he cannot try and stall confiscation of his property in the garb of civil cases.
“The Bill states that if the person returns and submits himself to the courts, the proceedings against him under this law may be terminated by special courts if they are satisfied with the person’s case,” Goyal said.
A new Act was required, as existing laws have certain inadequacies in promptly attaching assets of high-value economic offenders who flee India after committing willful defaults or acts of fraud. Criminal proceedings in such cases usually require to be in various courts in the country and there are chances that court orders on confiscation of assets are at odds with one another.
Ironically, the Bill was earlier introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 12 but could not be passed due to frequent disruptions over various issues including the over $2-billion fraud at Punjab National Bank involving Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. Subsequently, the government brought in the Ordinance.
The idea of the new law was first proposed by Union minister Arun Jaitley in Budget 2017-18, in the backdrop of Vijay Mallya, who owes over Rs 9,000 crore to a number of Indian banks, fleeing the country.
To declare someone a fugitive economic offender, an application will have to be filed in a special court (designated under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002) containing details of the properties to be confiscated, and any information about the person’s whereabouts. The person will be required to appear before the special court at a specified place at least six weeks from the issue of notice. Proceedings will continue if the person doesn’t appear. Currently, such offences are tried under multiple laws – the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002 (Sarfesi), the Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.