Who prevented SBI from moving court against Vijay Mallya in 2016?     

It is evident that someone at the top of the Modi Government wanted to see that Vijay Mallya was not arrested before leaving the country in February 2016 and his passport was not impounded

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Nitya Chakraborty/IPA

The controversy over the circumstances under which the bankrupt Kingfisher Airlines owner Vijay Mallya left for London on March 2, 2016, has now thickened, after the fugitive businessman told newsmen after the latest court hearing in the United Kingdom that he met finance minister Arun Jaitley on March 1 and told him that he was leaving for London next day. Without going into the exact nature of the meeting—whether it was a chance meeting forced by the Rajya Sabha member on Jaitley in the Central Hall of Parliament or it was a serious sit down meeting for 15 to 20 minutes as stated by Congress Rajya Sabha member PL Punia—the moot point is there was a meeting and if it was correct that Mallya told Jaitley that he was leaving next day, it was a gross failure on the part of the Finance Minister not to inform the Central Bureau of Investigation or the Enforcement Directorate about this.

If one takes into account the developments in the last few days prior to March 1 meeting, it is evident that someone at the top of the Government wanted to see that Mallya was not arrested before leaving the country and his passport was not impounded. Otherwise how can one explain why the top officials of the State Bank of India failed to move the Supreme Court on February 2—as advised by their lawyer to which they agreed at the emergency meeting on Sunday, February 28, 2016. This urgency arose because it was on February 26, 2016 that United Spirits announced that it had reached a settlement with Mallya and that the bankrupt businessman would step down as a chairman and receive a US$ 75 million golden handshake.

The SBI-led lenders got panicky since they suspected that Mallya would now leave the country any day with this settlement. The consortium moved the Debts Recovery Tribunal (DRT) in Bengaluru asking that the severance pay of $75 million be kept in an escrow account till the liquor baron cleared his dues, and his passport be attached so that he was unable to leave the country. This was followed by urgent consultations by the SBI officials with senior Supreme Court lawyer Dushyant Dave on February 28. Dave, after assessing the situation, advised the SBI team to immediately approach the Supreme Court the next day, February 29, seeking an order restraining Mallya’s overseas travel. It was clear to Dave that Mallya would now leave India any moment and immediate intervention of the Supreme Court was needed.

Something must have been conveyed by some quarter of the Modi government by February 29 morning to ensure that the SBI team does not move the Supreme Court and Vijay Mallya gets time to leave

But something happened in the next 24 hours after the crucial meeting between the SBI team and Dave. Dave waited but there was no response from the SBI team on February 29. There was no approach to the Supreme Court by the SBI legal team who only one day before desperately approached Dave for action plan to stop Mallya from leaving the country. The day following February 29, Mallya met Arun Jaitley and the day after on March 2, he was out of the country. Thus the sudden inaction of the SBI team on February 29 despite strong advice by their legal brain needs investigation. The details of the meeting of February 28 were known to the chairperson of the SBI and the finance ministry as also PMO. So something must have been conveyed by some quarter of the Modi government by February 29 morning to ensure that the SBI team does not move the Supreme Court and Mallya gets time to leave.

The strange part was that the senior lawyer Dave waited for the SBI team on Monday morning at 10 am, but the SBI officials did not mysteriously turn up. After allowing Mallya to leave the country on March 2, the SBI-led consortium of 17 banks finally filed a petition in the Supreme Court on March 5, three days after the departure of the defaulting industrialist. On March 8, 2016, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi mentioned the petition before the Chief Justice TS Thakur, wherein he mentioned that Mallya owed more than ₹9,000 crore to the 17 banks led by SBI and he has been declared a wilful defaulter. Since then for the last two-and-a-half years, Mallya has been staying in UK and he has been fighting his battle in the court in London against the Government of India and the banks, costing the Indian side lot of money.

From all these facts, it becomes apparent that someone at the top either in the finance ministry or in the PMO must have acted to slow down the action programme of the SBI-led consortium so that Mallya got time to leave India before any intervention by the Supreme Court came. SBI is specifically affected by Mallya’s bad debts and its share was the largest. So the SBI team initially was most active in pursuing the plan for taking action against Mallya. That is why the SBI legal team held an emergency meeting on a Sunday, February 28 and chalked out the strategy for the Supreme Court. After such action, the SBI officers, on their own cannot take such a decision of not going to Supreme Court as promised, unless there is some instruction from high up in the Government.

This is a fit case for investigation to find out what happened between February 28, 2016 night and the next morning that the scheduled meeting with the senior lawyer Dushyant Dave was skipped by the SBI team and Vijay Mallya was allowed to leave. Who gave the instruction to skip the meeting and not to approach the Supreme Court on February 29?

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