“We are not going anywhere,,” said Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh in a public statement after allegations of siphoning off cash from their public traded businesses. The statement came amidst increasing concerns about businessmen fleeing the country post involvement in frauds and scams amounting to billions.
31 Indians have fled the country to avoid prosecution, another 91 are on government’s no-fly list. These 91 people belong to firm and businesses that on the list of wilful defaulters who refused to pay back Loans. With billionaires like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi having fled the country post allegations of multi-billion dollar scams, the Modi government that came to power with promises of corruption mukt Bharat sprung to action to clip the wings of those fleeing the country.
Last year, after Mallya fled the country to avoid prosecution, the finance minister Arun Jaitley announced that the government will legislate a law to bring back such offenders. So when the $2 billion fraud by diamond merchant Nirav Modi rocked the country in January this year, the lawmakers, bureaucrats and court officials took the pen and started drafting the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill.
The Bill approved by the Cabinet aims to stop those who avoid judicial process in offences involving INR 100 crore or more. Economic offences that are defined under the Indian Penal Code, the Prevention of Corruption Act, the SEBI Act, the Customs Act, the Companies Act, the Limited Liability Partnership Act and Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code fall under the purview of the Bill.
The bill defines fugitive as any person against whom a warrant has been issued and who has left or leaves India to avoid criminal prosecution refusing to return. Under the Bill, the person named fugitive economic offender by the court would be issued a six week notice to report on a specified time and at a specified place failing which his or her properties, whether related to the case or not, would be attached and sold to recover the amount claimed under the fraud. The offender also cannot challenge or file a civil claim in any court as per the proposed bill.
The proposed bill came amidst mounting pressure on the government to take action against those involved in economic offences. The bill though novel in thought has to face the scrutiny of principles of natural justice and constitutionality with many expressing concerns over provisions disrobing the right to contest or challenge claims in civil court and confiscation of property prior to any allegations having been proved.
The bill is among the many measures the government has taken to deter the twin balance sheet problem the Indian economy is facing at present. The bill is at nascent stage, when and how will it come into force is yet to be reckoned. Those calling the bill a knee-jerk reaction have questioned why the extradition policy and Prevention of Money Laundering Act which are already in force failed to counter those fleeing the countries. Others doubt whether confiscation of property will help forcing offenders to pay obedience to process of law.
With the country going to elections next year, there is no better time for the government to walk the talk !!!