The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its judgment on quantum of sentence against fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya, 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 $75-million settlement with Diageo Group, when he resigned from the chairmanship of the United Breweries group in February 2016.
A bench comprising Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha reserved the judgement after hearing senior counsel and amicus curiae Jaideep Gupta on the case proceedings so far, various aspects related to the contempt law and the Supreme Court Rules.
It even permitted counsel Ankur Saigal, who was earlier representing Mallya, to file written submissions, if any, by Tuesday. Saigal told the court that Mallya was fully aware of the court orders, but he had expressed inability to come. However, the counsel when asked to respond on Mallya’s sentencing issue, he had nothing to say on merit. The apex court had on February 10 given one “last opportunity” to the industrialist to appear before it personally or through his counsel, failing which the apex court would take the case to “a logical conclusion” and pass orders on the “next occasion”. Gupta on Thursday told the court that adequate opportunity/sufficient notice had been given to the businessman to appear and there was no violation of the principle of natural justice, thus the Supreme Court should now pass orders on his sentencing.
“We are in a situation where arrest warrants won’t serve any purpose as we know he is in the UK and someone on his behalf is claiming that for whatever reasons he cannot come to India,” he argued, asking the SC to “proceed exparte”.
Noting that Mallya was a free citizen in London and not in anyone’s custody, the bench also said that “the only reason perhaps is there’s a proceeding which is pending, which will decide if a person is to be extradited”.
The judges also noted Gupta’s stand that Mallya has been found guilty of contempt on two counts — for not disclosing his assets and for violating the HC’s restraint orders — and punishment has to be imposed. “This cannot become a gateway for courts of first instance to adopt this method, and it has to be specifically mentioned that circumstances in the present case were extraordinary,” they said.
The bench also took into consideration the ministry of home affairs’ submissions that the UK Home Office had intimated that was a separate legal issue which needed to be resolved before Mallya is extradited to India. “They said there are proceedings in the UK. It’s like a dead wall, something is pending we don’t know. How long can we go on so far as our jurisdictional power is concerned,” the judges said.
Mallya had all through 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.