NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s global outreach to assert India’s clout on the world stage is all set to face its first test. India has fast-tracked the deportation of embattled businessman Vijay Mallya from the UK. Just days after suspending his diplomatic passport for four weeks, ministry of external affairs (MEA) has now revoked his passport. MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted, “After having considered replies by Vijay Mallya, MEA revokes his passport under Section 10(3)(c) & (h) of Passports Act”.
However, legal experts feel that the revocation of Mallya’s passport is likely to have little impact in expediting his deportation. Under UK rules, Mallya does not require a valid passport to stay in the country. He has been given the “leave to remain” in the UK. It is unclear whether Mallya has been given an “indefinite leave to remain” by British authorities. In that case, Mallya would have been given what is known across the world as “permanent residency”. This, experts believe, would be reason enough for British authorities to reject his deportation to India for questioning in money laundering investigations launched against him by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
With Mallya getting a leave to remain in the UK, the cancellation of the leave would also involve elaborate legal formalities. Under British rules, the power to cancel the leave to remain of an individual already in force cannot be exercised by an immigration officer acting on his own. Rules require the permissions of the chief immigration officer or an immigration inspector to even consider the cancellation of the leave to remain.
The grounds on which Mallya’s passport has been revoked under the Passports Act include doing it in the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or in interest of the general public”. The MEA’s decision comes just days after the ED sought the revocation to facilitate his deportation to India.
A similar sequence of events had unfolded in Lalit Modi’s case as well. The UK foreign commonwealth office (FCO) had rejected India’s request for Modi’s deportation saying that doing so would require legal sanction even though the former IPL czar’s passport had been revoked by Indian authorities.
ED officials told dna that the difference between Modi’s and Mallya’s case is that while the former was being investigated for violations under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), the latter is being probed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Under PMLA, the ED can seek custodial interrogation of the accused person. FEMA violations do not require a person’s presence before investigators.
ED officials state that Mallya has refused to cooperate with them in their investigations. He has ignored three summons from the agency to appear before them in person. The ED was also trying to obtain a list of all his assets abroad through Indian banks. However, Mallya has been hesitant to disclose his overseas assets, maintaining that he is a non-resident Indian (NRI).
In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court on April 21, 2016, Mallya described the ED’s measures to obtain information of his foreign assets as “coercive”. In a bid to prevent the ED from accessing information, Mallya has offered to give a list of all his foreign assets in a “sealed envelope” on April 26, when the case comes for hearing again in the apex court.
The ED, through banks, is also seeking information on the assets of Mallya’s estranged wife Rekha Mallya and his children Siddartha (28), Leana (23) and Tanya Mallya (20). All of them are American citizens. Mallya has said that he will give the list of his family’s overseas assets to the SC in a sealed envelope to prevent the disclosure of information to any third party. Mallya has contended in court that banks did not have the right to seek information about his family’s assets since “these assets were never considered by the banks while granting loans to Kingfisher Airlines.”
Mallya has also maintained that his estranged wife, Rekha is not obliged to disclose her overseas assets even in her income tax (IT) returns since she is an NRI. Mallya has claimed similar protection for his three children, telling the court that they were not obliged to disclose their assets to Indian authorities since all of them were American citizens.