The > suspension of Vijay Mallya’s diplomatic passport by the Ministry of External Affairs, within a week of his failing for the third time to heed an Enforcement Directorate summons to appear in connection with a money laundering probe, is a prompt and appropriate step. The Directorate had repeatedly sought his personal presence and, in the face of non-compliance, > wrote to the MEA seeking revocation of the passport . The Ministry, which has given the liquor baron a week’s notice to explain why the official travel document should not be revoked or impounded, should increase the pressure on him to return to India and face the law of the land. As a sitting member of the Rajya Sabha — he is due to retire on June 30 — and as someone who portrays himself as the victim of a campaign of calumny and > asserts that he has neither the intention nor any reason to abscond, it is appropriate that he submit himself to due process. At its last hearing, the Supreme Court had given him time until April 21 to clarify when he would appear before the court. Regardless of his dim view on the merits of the allegations against him, Mr. Mallya still has to discharge his liabilities, which the banks that have lent to his companies have quantified at about Rs.9,000 crore. He also has to answer the Central Bureau of Investigation’s charge that the > Rs.900-crore loan Kingfisher Airlines had taken from IDBI Bank involves money-laundering; it is in this connection that an open-dated, > non-bailable warrant against him was issued by a special court in Mumbai.
Mr. Mallya’s elbow room is shrinking, and he must know that he is not merely battling the legal consequences of corporate loans gone bad. He is also battling a widespread perception that the loans went bad because of his profligate ways, poor management and possible malfeasance. His flamboyant lifestyle has been central to contributing to a negative public perception; if anything, his sudden exit from the country has only added weight to such a view. He has challenged the determination by banks that he is a wilful defaulter by arguing that he is personally not a borrower, and only gave a personal guarantee for corporate loans. Any credibility that one could attach to his defence will have to flow from his own conduct and submission to due process in this country, something that the Supreme Court has underscored by asking him for a possible date for his appearance and an authentic statement of his assets. The Central government must not ease the pressure on him, and must take recourse to all diplomatic and legal means to achieve the objective of bringing him back. It cannot afford to lend the impression that it allowed > Mr. Mallya leave India at a crucial stage in the legal proceedings for recovery of the money due from him and is not doing enough to submit him to the process of law.