Mallya case is like a dead wall: Supreme Court

Apex court reserves judgment on how to punish fugitive businessman for contempt

Updated - March 11, 2022 12:39 am IST

Published - March 10, 2022 06:38 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Indian businessman Vijay Mallya. File

Indian businessman Vijay Mallya. File | Photo Credit: AP

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it has been “dead-walled” about the proceedings going on in the United Kingdom involving fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya, who is behaving like a “free person” in that country, while reserving its judgment on how to punish him for contempt.

“We have been told there are some proceedings going on in the U.K. We don’t know the details of those proceedings, what is its nature or the relief sought for in those proceedings, what is even the number of those proceedings... Nothing. We have been simply told that something is pending. What is the foreseeable future by which time it will be concluded, even in which court it is pending.. we don’t know... Nothing. It is like a dead wall. So how long can we go on...” Justice U.U. Lalit, heading a three-judge Bench, observed.

The court asked what the maximum punishment which can be given to Mallya under the Contempt of Courts Act was.

“To our understanding, the man is not in anybody’s custody in the U.K. He is a free person. He can go wherever he wishes to go. Only thing we know from foreign counterparts is there is a proceedings which is going on which may perhaps determine whether the person is to be extradited or not,” Justice Lalit said.

“Contempt has already been established. We can go on with the punishment now... in fact, he was very recently in the news. His bungalow in London came up for auction. We also see that he is settling with the bank. So he is very much a free person,” senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, the court’s amicus curiae, submitted.

Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, who is on the Bench along with Justice P.S. Narasimha, said Mr. Mallya was aware of the sentencing hearing as he had been communicated with both the contempt order and the order in his plea for review of the contempt action.

Mr. Gupta said Mr. Mallya should not only be punished but the top court should also sequester his assets.

“The issuance of warrant of arrest will not serve the purpose because we know for a fact that he is in the U.K. and somebody on his behalf is saying he cannot come to India,” Mr. Gupta submitted.

The amicus said the court had given ample opportunity to Mr. Mallya to at least present his defence through a counsel. The businessman has not done so.

The apex court had found Mallya guilty of contempt in May 2017 for willful disobedience of its order to come clean about his assets and not disclosing $40 million he had received from British liquor major Diageo Plc following his resignation as Chairman of United Spirits Limited in February 2016.

On August 30 2020, the apex court had dismissed Mr. Mallya’s review petition against the 2017 verdict of contempt.

Mr. Mallya had informed the court that he had no control over the $40 million as he had already disbursed it among his three adult children, who were U.S. citizens. The consortium of banks to which Mallya owed money had sought contempt action against him and had argued that the disbursal of the $40 million among his three children was in direct violation of a standing Karnataka High Court order that none of his assets should be “alienated, disposed of or be subjected to the creation of third party rights.”

On Thursday, the Bench discussed the prospect of passing an order to reverse the transactions which involved “public money” owed to the banks.

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