A high-level team of officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and National Investigation Agency (NIA) would be heading soon for the UK to expedite extradition of India’s most wanted fugitives, including defence dealer Sanjay Bhandari, diamond trader Nirav Modi and Kingfisher Airlines promoter Vijay Mallya, sources said on January 16.
It is also learnt that the team heading to London will engage in bilateral discussions regarding the longstanding exchange of information pending with the UK authorities under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). Being signatories to MLAT, both the UK and India are obligated to legally share information on criminal investigations involving economic offenders and others. The NIA team is presently investigating multiple terror suspects associated with the Khalistani movement.
Despite the Union Home Ministry being the designated authority for MLAT matters, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is actively engaged in diplomatic interactions with the UK in this instance, as all requests are channeled through MEA for foreign countries.
It is learnt that the team would include a senior officer from the MEA during the meeting with the UK authorities. The meeting would be arranged in sessions in close supervision of the Indian High Commission in London.
If everything goes as planned, the joint team is expected to depart at any time this month. Besides expediting the process of extradition of the fugitives, the team is learnt to seek outstanding informations about assets obtained by them in London, including specifics about their banking transactions.
Officers, privy to the development, told the media, the initiatives are underway to identify the properties of the individuals in the UK and other countries with the aim of seizing the ‘proceeds of crime.’
The extradition cases of Sanjay Bhandari, Nirav Modi, and Mallya are awaiting resolution in the UK, as they have appealed in higher courts against deportation to India. The ED has already seized their assets in India, and significant funds have been recovered by selling the assets of Mallya and Modi, amounting to thousands of crores, which were then returned to banks to settle their outstanding dues.
Bhandari, an arms dealer who fled in 2016 following investigations by income tax and the Enforcement Directorate into various defence deals during the UPA regime, is known to have close ties with Robert Vadra, the husband of Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi.
As per the ED, Bhandari obtained properties in London and Dubai, subsequently transferring them to shell companies overseen by CC Thampi, an alleged associate of Vadra. However, Nirav Modi faces allegations in a fraud case related to Punjab National Bank funds exceeding Rs 6,500 crore, whereas Mallya’s assets, valued at over Rs 5,000 crore, have been attached and seised due to bank defrauding activities.
The ED is investigating Bhandari, Thampi, and Vadra for alleged payoffs received in various defence deals. The agency has attached Bhandari’s properties in India, totalling over Rs 26 crore, and filed charges against him. A special court, similar to the cases of Mallya and Modi, has declared Bhandari as a fugitive economic offender.
(with inputs from ANI)