Bill to prosecute fugitive tycoons gets nod

Vijay Mallya

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities will be able to seize assets of fugitives accused of crimes involving sums over Rs 1 billion ($14 million), under a bill approved by the Lower House of Parliament on Thursday.
The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill law, which will go to the Upper House and the president in the coming days, is part of a push to prosecute dozens of people who have fled in the last four years, including tycoon Vijay Mallya, who faces the seizure of his British assets in an alleged bank fraud.
India wants to extradite the 62-year-old from Britain to face charges of fraud as a group of Indian banks seek to recover more than $1 billion of loans granted to his defunct Kingfisher Airlines. Mallya has denied the allegations. The new law will replace an executive order introduced by the government to initiate the seizure of assets of jewellers Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi, who fled after being accused of an over $2 billion bank fraud, which they deny.“This is the first time in the last 70 years after independence that such a strict measure has been taken against fugitive economic offenders,” Piyush Goyal, interim finance minister, told parliament.
As per the bill provisions, to declare a person a fugitive economic offender (FEO), an application should be filed in a Special Court designated under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002. The Court will, thereafter, issue a notice to the individual alleged to be a fugitive economic offender.
The bill provides for confiscation of any FEO’s property bought from the proceeds of crime as also his other assets, benami or otherwise.
Allaying the concern of some members about the bill giving “draconian” powers to the authorities, Goyal said it provides for the presence of two or more persons as witnesses to the search and seizure operations to confiscate property.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aiming a second term in elections early next year, faces criticism for not taking tough measures against persons involved in bank frauds as stressed assets in banks have built up to more than $150 billion. — Agencies