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CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM

Two developments, one coming close on the heels of the other, sound curious. Christian Michel of the Agusta Westland VVIP helicopter scam dating back to years 2010-11 has been extradited to India from the UAE. Another high-flying ‘wanted’ businessman-turned fugitive Vijay Mallya swiftly changes his evasive tunes and extends an offer by tweet from the UK that he is willing to return to India and pay back every penny he owed banks – which is no small sum.

The case against Michel was filed by the CBI in September last year, and the plea for extradition dragged due partly to the procedures involved. Luckily, India has an extradition treaty with the UAE signed shortly after the Modi government took charge in Delhi. But, whether the extradition would mean much by way of taking the VVIP copter scam forward to its logical conclusion is as yet an open question. Arguments could be, this is a drama being staged by the central government in its last leg of governance before the approaching Lok Sabha polls, to fool the people. Yet, it is worth watching how this case now progresses.

This should be small comfort for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had in the last LS poll campaign in 2014 promised the people he would get back the black money taken away from India to safe havens abroad and redistribute it to the bank accounts of the poor. No major headway was made during the nearly five-year rule of the NDA government at the Centre in this respect. This is also evident in other old and new cases of bank frauds and scams, and the funnelling of such money to tax havens outside the country by several Indian businessmen.

It would however appear curious that fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya, apparently taking a cue from the extradition of Michel, now promises to return the full dues to Indian banks amounting to nearly Rs 9,000 crore. Mallya had scooted from the scene in March, 2016 and this followed a plea to the UK by the Indian government in February last year. Mallya thought it fit to buy time and fight his cases through courts in the UK, stalling every move against him with considerable ease. Notably, a verdict on the plea for his extradition is expected from a UK court in a week’s time. The proof of the pudding is in its eating. One has to wait and see how positive are the present turns vis a vis bringing the guilty to book.

 

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