Vijay Mallya, the fugitive liquor baron sought by India for defaulting on several bank loans amounting to nearly Rs 9,000 crore, on Tuesday claimed he has “enough evidence” to plead his case and taunted authorities saying, “you can keep dreaming about a billion pounds”.
“I deny all allegations that have been made and I will continue to deny them,” said the 61-year-old flamboyant boss of the erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines, who appeared before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in the United Kingdom for the hearing of an extradition case against him.
Chief Magistrate Emma Louise Arbuthnot granted bail to Mallya until December 4. The next hearing has been set for July 6.
“I have not eluded any court... I have enough evidence to prove my case,” Mallya told reporters outside the court.
When asked whether he had diverted funds to the Indian Premier League team Royal Challengers Bangalore he previously owned, Mallya said, “I have not diverted...”
“I don’t make statements to the media because anything I say is twisted. There is enough evidence, that will speak,” said Mallya, who was accompanied to court by his son Siddharth Mallya, a female companion and a small group of supporters.
Mallya was arrested by Scotland Yard in April and has been out on bail, which was further extended until December 4 -- also tentatively fixed as the final date of hearing in the case.
Mallya claimed that no loans were diverted anywhere.
“You can keep dreaming about a billion pounds; you cannot prove anything without facts,” Mallya told reporters.
Arbuthnot, who presided over what is referred to as a “case management hearing”, said, “Make sure you do not break any conditions of your bail. If you do so, you will be back in custody.”
Mallya’s defence team, which is being led by the firm Boutique Law LLP, said a second extradition request is expected from the Indian government.
In the dock at Court Room 3 of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Mallya spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth -- 18 December, 1955.
The judge set July 6 as the next hearing date for further case management matters but Mallya was exempted from attending that hearing after his defence team claimed he was “swarmed by media cameras” on his entry to the court on Tuesday.
“It was literally a battle to get into court,” said Mallya’s lawyer barrister Ben Watson.
He urged the judge to put barriers for the media outside the court for future hearings, to which the judge responded by excusing Mallya from the next court appearance while she looks into her authority to impose such barriers.
Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, represented by Aaron Watkins, presented the case in court on behalf of the Indian authorities and pushed for a final hearing date in
“We have a good and close working relationship (with the Indian government) in this case,” Watkins told the judge when asked if, “India is quite prompt in their responses”.
Mallya’s defence team wanted a final hearing date in March or April 2018, claiming they are yet to receive the “final evidence” from the Indian authorities and also believe a second extradition request is coming.
The second request is believed to be related to the Enforcement Directorate’s case against Mallya.
CPS argued that the government of India will deal responsibly with any future extradition request and that a conclusion of the current case by December was preferable.
The judge settled on December 4 as the final hearing date, which will be reviewed at the next hearing in July.
“If all the ducks are in a row by then, we will proceed with December,” the judge said.
“There might be a few more hearings in this case in the coming months to deal with case management or any issues that arise, before the final hearing takes place, at which the full arguments from both sides in this case will be heard by the Judge,” explained Jasvinder Nakhwal, partner at Peters and Peters Solicitors LLP and member of the UK’s Extradition Lawyers Association.
The CPS had met a joint team of Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate officials in London last month to thrash out details of the case.
“Our aim is to build a strong, infallible case and these meetings will help resolve issues across the table. The CPS will be arguing based on documents provided by CBI and ED, therefore a joint team is here to address queries they may have,” official sources had said after the meeting held in early May.
A CBI official also flew in from Delhi for Tuesday’s hearing.
Mallya also slammed the media for its “frenzy”.
“I go to cheer India in a cricket match and it becomes a media frenzy. It’s better I don’t say anything,” he said, adding that two people, in a drunken state, called him a
“thief” outside the stadium. “There were many who wished me well.”
Earlier, he had caused a stir by his attendance at the India vs Pakistan match in Birmingham after which he had declared on Twitter that he would be attending all India matches in the ongoing ICC Champions Trophy.
Mallya, who is wanted in India for Kingfisher Airlines’ default on loans worth nearly Rs 9,000-crore, has been in the UK since March 2016 and was arrested by Scotland Yard on an extradition warrant on April 18.
He had attended a central London police station for his arrest and was released on conditional bail a few hours later after providing a bail bond worth £650,000, assuring the court of abiding by all conditions associated with extradition proceedings, such as the surrender of his passport and a ban on him possessing any travel documents.
An initial case management hearing date of May 17 was postponed to June 13.
If the District Judge rules in favour of extradition at the end of the trial, the UK home secretary must order Mallya’s extradition within two months of the appropriate day. However, the case can go through a series of appeals before arriving at a conclusion.
India and the UK have an Extradition Treaty, signed in 1992, but so far only one extradition has taken place under the arrangement -- Samirbhai Vinubhai Patel, who was sent back to India last October to face trial in connection with his involvement in the post-Godhra riots of 2002.
However, unlike Mallya, he had submitted to the extradition order without legal challenge.
Images: Vijay Mallya, accompanied by his son Siddharth Mallya, being swarmed by media persons as he leaves Westminster Magistrates Court after his extradition hearing. Photographs: Hannah McKay/Reuters