A UK court today asked the Indian authorities to submit a video within three weeks of Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail cell where they plan to keep Vijay Mallya post-extradition and set September 12 as the date for closing arguments in his high-profile extradition trial.
During a brief hearing today, Judge Emma Arbuthnot said she was not able to hear the case fully and just addressed representations from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), representing the Indian government, and Mallya’s defence team on the conditions at Barrack 12 of Mumbai Central Prison.
She asked the Indian authorities to submit a “step by step video” of Barrack 12 for “the avoidance of doubt” over the availability of natural light in the cell where the 62-year-old businessman is expected to be detained pre-trial, during trial and in the event he is convicted by the Indian courts.
“I would like a video of Barrack 12, to see where the windows are… shot maybe at mid-day with no artificial lighting,” the judge said, setting a three-week time-frame for the film to be provided to all parties in the case.
Mallya, who has been on bail on an extradition warrant since his arrest in April last year, is fighting extradition to India on charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around Rs 9,000 crores.
As he arrived in court this morning for the hearing, he reiterated his offer to settle dues with the Indian courts.
“I have made a comprehensive offer to the Karnataka High Court to settle dues… The question of stealing money, money laundering are all blatantly false charges. Now that the assets are before the court, I am in the hands of the court; I hope this will all end,” he said.
“I have not included any clemency plea or plea bargain in my unconditional offer to the Karnataka High Court,” he added.
“At the end of the day, the courts will decide,” said Mallya, whose bail was extended until September 12, which has been set as the date for the next hearing when the judge is expected to hear closing submissions in the case before she can set a timeline for her verdict.
The CPS today presented its arguments in favour of the government of India to address the judge’s concerns arising out of a National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) prisons report from earlier this year.
CPS barrister Mark Summers took the judge through a “further letter of assurance” from the Indian government, highlighting that any concerns of “overcrowding” associated with Arthur Road Jail do not relate to Barrack 12 – which houses only six inmates and was “clean and hygienic”.
The availability of “private” and adequate washing and toilet facilities that are regularly cleaned and have western-style functioning flow of water and clean mattress and bedding were among the other assurances provided.
Arthur Road Jail’s structural integrity and a commitment that Mallya’s trial would proceed “expeditiously” in India were among some of the other issues addressed by the CPS.
Mallya’s defence team, led by Clare Montgomery, focused its objections on the lack of natural light available in Barrack 12 as it claimed that the “government of India assurance cannot be relied upon”.
“The photos show natural light flooding into the cell. But our (expert’s) assessment is that… it is very difficult to work out where the light was coming from. Whatever the light is, is not natural light,” said Montgomery.
While Mallya’s defence team was insisting on an inspection of the jail cell, the CPS stressed that the Indian government had provided “adequate material” which rendered the need for an inspection unnecessary.
The judge’s decision to ask for a video was welcomed by the CBI team present in court today, who said India was keen to be “transparent” and have provided all the assurances asked for by the UK court.
The CPS presented documents to the judge related to the May 8 High Court ruling on the worldwide freezing order against Mallya and the UK Court of Appeal having refused him permission to appeal the judgment last month.
The extradition trial, which opened at the London court on December 4, is aimed at laying out a prima facie case of fraud against Mallya, who has been based in the UK since he left India in March 2016. It also seeks to prove there are no “bars to extradition” and that Mallya is assured a fair trial in India over his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines’ alleged default of over Rs 9,000 crores.
Mallya’s defence team has deposed a series of expert witnesses to claim he had no “fraudulent” intentions and that he is unlikely to get a fair trial in India.
He has lost his appeal in the UK’s Court of Appeal against a High Court order in favour of 13 Indian banks to recover funds amounting to nearly 1.145 billion pounds.
It was followed by a related enforcement order last month granting permission to the UK High Court Enforcement Officer to enter Mallya’s properties in Hertfordshire, near London.
In the ongoing extradition proceedings, if the judge rules in favour of the Indian government, the UK home secretary will have two months to sign Mallya’s extradition order. However, both sides will have the chance to appeal in higher courts in the UK against the Magistrates’ Court verdict.
UK-based Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, wanted in India as a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal involving former South African captain Hanse Cronje in 2000, had been discharged by a UK court in October on human rights grounds over severe conditions in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where the accused was to be held on being extradited. PTI