LONDON: The CBI's evidence against billionaire Vijay Mallya, accused of loan fraud in India, was admitted by a London court today, in a boost for the investigating agency that has been trying to get the liquor tycoon to stand trial in India. The agency also informed the court that a prison cell in line with European Union guidelines is ready for him, a counter to concerns about poor prison conditions in India.
Vijay Mallya's legal team that is fighting off the government's efforts to extradite him had earlier argued that the evidence provided by the CBI was not good enough to be admitted by the court.
Today, Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthno said she is "content on admissibility of evidence provided by the CBI" about the loan fraud case. The CBI, however, is yet to provide evidence against the fugitive businessman on the second charge of money laundering that he faces.
Officials said the Enforcement Directorate, which is probing the second case, is yet to send across the required affidavit.
Vijay Mallya left India in March 2016, just as a consortium of banks led by the State Bank of India started efforts to recover around Rs. 9,000 crores loaned to the collapsed Kingfisher Airline. The tycoon was later accused of money laundering as well.
At today's hearing, the CBI also made efforts to address concerns around poor conditions of Indian jails. India had earlier claimed that Indian jails were as bad as some had made them out to be. But this was seen more as positioning. Courts have refused to send back suspects on this ground in the past; UK-based Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, wanted in India as a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal involving former South African captain Hansie Cronje in 2000, was one beneficiary.
But the CBI isn't taking chances on this count and told the court that a prison cell had been readied for Vijay Mallya that meets standards outlined by the European body on human rights in such cases. In jail, the CBI said this would ensure that he would access to medical attention as per his requirement. The businessman is highly diabetic and has high blood pressure.
The assurance about the prison condition was important because the extradition case is in the final lap.
The judge will hold one more hearing, on 11 July, at the request of Vijay Mallya, the owner of the now defunct Kingfisher airlines, for final arguments. Before this hearing, both sides will have to give a concise note with crisp points, the judge said, setting guidelines for the font to be used as well so that it is easy for her to "make up her mind".
In court and outside, the 62-year-old businessman, neck-deep in legal trouble over crores in unpaid dues, has claimed that he had not fraudulently misled banks into granting the airline loans and he intended to repay the loan and had even offered a one-time settlement.
At the last hearing in the case on March 16, the judge had, however, noted that it was "blindingly obvious" that rules were being broken by Indian banks which sanctioned some of the loans to the erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines owned by Mallya.
India has been able to get only one person extradited from UK in the 26 years that the two countries have had an extradition treaty signed in 1992. This was in 2016 when Samirbhai Vinubhai Patel, an accused in the 2002 Gujarat riots case, was sent back to stand trial.