The Supreme Court on Thursday gave one “last opportunity” to fugitive industrialist Vijay Mallya to appear before it on February 24 in a case related to fixing quantum of punishment following his conviction in May 2017, when the businessman was found guilty of contempt of court for transferring $40 million to his children despite the court orders restraining him from doing so.
The money was part of the $75-million settlement with Diageo Group when he resigned from the chairmanship of United Breweries group in February 2016.
A Bench of justices UU Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat gave Mallya time till February 24 to appear before it personally or through his counsel, failing which the apex court will take the case to “a logical conclusion” and pass orders on the “next occasion.”
The judges heard amicus curiae Jaideep Gupta and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who argued that adequate opportunity/suffcient notice had been given to the businessman to appear and there was no violation of the principle of natural justice, thus the Supreme Court can now pass orders on his sentencing. “Mallya has abstained from proceedings in the Supreme Court and we have to pronounce sentence in his absence,” the Bench said.
Gupta said “principles of natural justice entail that a person is given opportunity of hearing. But if he does not wish to take, it is sufficient compliance of this rule.” Even Mehta supported his stand.
The top court had on November 30 said that it can’t wait “forever” for Mallya and the hearing on his sentencing can take place irrespective of whether he will be extradited back to India. It can happen in presence of his lawyer if Mallya is not available in person for “any reason”. “We have sufficiently waited for him to come. That is enough… We cannot wait forever. We can’t wait more. It is up to Mallya to appear in person or advance arguments through his counsel. But, the matter has to see the light as it is getting adjourned since 2017. Only sentencing is pending for last four years. Well, the process (of sentencing) has to get over someday,” the Bench had said while noting that Mallya was found guilty of contempt for wilful disobedience on May 10, 2017 for failing to come clean about his assets.
Mallya had also ignored summons to appear in the SC in the case related to recovery of Rs 9,000-crore dues to the banks involving his defunct airlines. The businessman was scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court in the contempt case following dismissal of his review plea against his conviction on August 31 last year. The fugitive has been based in the UK since March 2016 and remains on bail on an extradition warrant executed three years ago by Scotland Yard on April 18, 2017.
Last year, the Solicitor General had informed the SC that the government is making all efforts to extradite Mallya from the UK but the process is being delayed due to some “confidential” proceeding initiated by Mallya, details of which were not disclosed to the ministry of external affairs by their counterparts in the UK.