The Supreme Court on Thursday, February 10, gave a final opportunity to fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya to appear before it, before it pronounces its sentence in a contempt case filed by banks, in which he was found guilty. A bench of Justices UU Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat said the court has found Mallya guilty of contempt and punishment has to be imposed. Going by normal logic, the contemnor has to be heard, but he has not appeared before the court so far, it said.
Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, who is amicus curiae, submitted that the matter may be adjourned for short time with an expression that this could be the final opportunity. Justice Bhat observed that Mallya has abstained from the hearing so far, and in the next hearing, the same thing will happen, and then the court would have to pronounce sentence in absentia. Justice Lalit added that he was given multiple opportunities.
Justice Bhat said 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.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta clarified that it was not the Indian government's stand that some confidential proceedings against him are pending in the UK, rather it was the stand of the UK government which was delaying his extradition. The bench agreed to take on record Mehta's submissions.
The bench noted the amicus says that principles of natural justice were sufficiently complied with and adequate opportunity was given to the contemnor, the matter ca n be adjourned for a short time, and a final opportunity should be given.
After hearing arguments, the top court scheduled the matter for further hearing in the last week of February. It also clarified that if Mallya is not present in the hearing, then the matter will be taken to its logical conclusion.
According to a judgment delivered on July 14, 2017, Mallya was found guilty of contempt for not paying Rs 9,000 crore dues to the banks despite repeated directions. Additionally, he was also accused of not disclosing his assets and also secretly trying to dispose of the assets to defeat the purpose of recovery proceedings.
On October 6, 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has told the Supreme Court that the UK Home Office has intimated that there is a further legal issue which needs to be resolved before Mallya's extradition takes place and this issue is outside and apart from the extradition process having effect under the UK law.
The affidavit had said that Mallya's surrender to India should, in principle, have been completed within 28 days after he lost the appeal against extradition. However, the UK Home Office then intimated India of the further legal issue.
On November 2 last year, the top court had asked the Union government to file a status report on extradition of the fugitive businessman within six weeks, and on November 30, it said it will begin hearing on sentencing of him in contempt of court, in which he was held guilty in July 2017.