Within days of a request from the Enforcement Directorate, in connection with a money laundering probe in the over Rs. 900 crore IDBI Bank loan fraud case, the Ministry of External Affairs suspended liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s diplomatic passport. It has also threatened to revoke it if he doesn’t appear before the Indian High Commission in London within a week.
“The External Affairs Ministry has suspended the validity of Mr. Mallya’s diplomatic passport with immediate effect for four weeks, under Section 10 A of the Passports Act,” Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said on Friday.
Section 10 A of the Act empowers the authorities to suspend passports or travel documents in certain cases. The suspension order is communicated to all the ports of entry or exit in India.
The beleaguered NRI businessman, whose ordinary passport is also rendered invalid by a Ministry order, is now left with the sole option of returning to the country on an emergency certificate issued by the Indian mission. Mr. Mallya left India on March 2, flying out of Delhi on his diplomatic passport, and is believed to be in the United Kingdom.
According to sources, the Ministry acted swiftly on the ED’s request in view of strict orders to show him no leniency, given the sharp criticism it had faced for allegedly facilitating the former IPL chief Lalit Modi’s travel to Portugal from the United Kingdom when he faced similar charges.
However, the Congress questioned the government’s sincerity. “If the government is so sensitive to the charges against Mr. Mallya, why did it let him leave the country in the first place,” spokesperson Manish Tewari asked.
Mr. Swarup said Mr. Mallya was asked to respond within one week why his passport should not be impounded or revoked under Section 10(3)(c) of the Act. The provision is invoked if the passport authority deems it necessary to suspend the document in the interest of the country’s sovereignty, integrity or security and its friendly relations with other countries, or in public interest.
“If he fails to respond within the stipulated time, it will be assumed that he has no response to offer, and the MEA will go ahead with the revocation,” he said.
On Wednesday, the ED sought revocation of Mr. Mallya’s passport.
The promoter of the defunct Kingfisher Airlines did not join the money laundering probe against him, despite three notices for his appearance.
The Rajya Sabha member, whose term ends on June 2, holds a diplomatic passport issued by the Delhi Regional Passport Office.
In March, a Hyderabad court issued a non-bailable warrant against him for non-appearance in a case of the alleged dishonour of a cheque for Rs.50 lakh issued to GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited.
Other cases of passports being revoked
Sacked Indian Premier League Commissioner Lalit Modi found his passport revoked on March 4, 2011 for eluding investigating agencies for six months over allegations of foreign exchange violations. The government did so, in its bid to bring him back from London.
India revoked the passport of arrested underworld don Chhota Rajan on November 5, 2015 as an investigation found that the document was procured through a fake identity from the Indian mission in Australia. Rajan, who had spent years abroad in hiding, was arrested in Bali while travelling on an Indian passport issued in the name of one Mohan Kumar.