Contempt of court: SC awards 4-month jail to Mallya, asks govt to bring him to undergo punishment

Upholding the “majesty of law”, the Supreme Court on Monday sentenced fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya to four months in jail and imposed a fine of `2,000 on him for a 2017 contempt of court case related to the transfer of $40 million to his three children despite the court orders restraining him from doing so. The apex court also directed the Union government to secure Mallya’s presence for undergoing the punishment.

The money was part of a $75 million settlement with Diageo Group when Mallya resigned from the chairmanship of United Breweries group in February 2016.

The sentence was awarded to Mallya more than five years after holding him guilty of contempt of court on May 9, 2017, for not disclosing full particulars of assets and for violating Karnataka High Court’s restraint orders in a case related to default in loan payment of over Rs 9,000 crore to a consortium of banks led by State Bank of India.

A Bench comprising Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha said: “To maintain the majesty of law, we must impose adequate punishment upon the contemnor (Mallya) and must also pass necessary directions so that the advantages secured by the contemnor or anyone claiming under him are set at naught….”

Noting that Mallya never showed any “remorse nor tendered any apology for his conduct,” the judges imposed a sentence of four months and a fine of Rs 2,000 upon Mallya. The fine is to be deposited within four weeks to the Supreme Court legal services authority, failing which a further sentence of two months will be added, it said.

According to judges, the transaction related to the transfer of $40 million by Mallya to his children – Siddharth, Leanna and Tanya — is “void and inoperable” and the industrialist and the beneficiaries shall return the amount with 8% interest per annum to the recovery officer within four weeks, failing which Mallya’s properties will be attached.

“If the money is not deposited, the recovery officer shall take appropriate proceedings, including appointing forensic auditors, for recovery of the said amount and the government of India and all the concerned agencies should assist and cooperate in the process,” the SC said, adding that even forensic auditors.

“We direct the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India to secure the presence of Mallya to undergo the imprisonment imposed upon him. Needless to say, GoI including the Ministry of External Affairs and all other agencies or instrumentalities shall carry out the directions issued by this court with due diligence and utmost expediency,” the apex court directed. It also asked the government to file a compliance report thereafter.

The top court had earlier said that it can’t wait “forever” for Mallya and the hearing on his sentencing can take place irrespective of whether he will be extradited to India. “We have sufficiently waited for him to come. That is enough… We cannot wait forever. We can’t wait for any more. It is up to Mallya to appear in person or advance arguments through his counsel. But, the matter has to see the light as it is getting adjourned since 2017… Well, the process (of sentencing) has to get over someday,” the Bench had said.

The apex court had on February 10 given one “last opportunity” to the industrialist to appear before it personally or through his counsel, failing which the apex court will take the case to “a logical conclusion” and pass orders on the “next occasion.”

Mallya had ignored summons to appear in the SC in the case related to the recovery of `9,000 crore dues to the banks involving his defunct Kingfisher Airlines. The businessman was scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court in the contempt case following the dismissal of his review plea against his conviction on August 31, last year. The fugitive has been based in the UK since March 2016 and remains on bail on an extradition warrant executed three years ago by Scotland Yard on April 18, 2017.

The Centre had earlier informed the court that though extradition of Mallya from the UK has been allowed, he could not be brought to India given some “secret” proceedings pending against him there, the details of which are not known to the Centre.

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